President Trump released his Fiscal Year 2021 federal budget proposal on Monday. A president’s February budget proposal describes federal appropriations the President would like to see enacted for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. Congress will deliberate on the President’s budget proposal and, if recent years are any indication, delay enacting a budget by passing a series of continuing resolutions. Then, if the past three years are any indication, Congress will appropriate federal funding for a different set of priorities than the ones proposed by President Trump. It is a good thing that President Trump’s new budget proposal is largely a fantasy designed to appeal to his base in an election year. Taken seriously, it would be a nightmare.
Nobody believes Congress will enact a budget that reflects the priorities expressed in the President’s budget proposal—slashing domestic spending on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act over ten years by $1 trillion, cutting food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, reducing funding for public housing by 43 percent below its FY 2020 level, and eliminating the Social Services Block Grant. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities describes these proposals in more detail.
Alarmingly, the budget for the U.S. Department of Education would slash funding and, at the same time, restructure the purpose and operation of Title I, the Department’s largest and most essential program to support school districts serving concentrations of children in poverty. The proposed budget would collapse 29 programs, including Title I, into a single Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant (ESED). Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa and Evie Blad report that the proposal “would cut the Education Department’s budget by $5.6 billion, reducing it to $66.6 billion, a 7.8 percent decrease. Its new Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant, meanwhile, would represent a $4.7 billion cut from the current funding levels for the 29 programs that would be merged.”
The federal government’s analysis of the budget proposal explains that the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant: “achieves savings while providing a significant amount of flexible funds for states and districts. Funds would be allocated to districts through the Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies formulas, ensuring education funds continue to support school districts serving disadvantaged students.” Two things stand out as the most shocking here. First $4.7 billion is missing from what is currently being spent on the same education programs, a significant funding erasure. Second, now that the U.S. Department of Education would no longer have the Charter Schools Program as a source of venture capital to stimulate new charter school startups (a good thing), it is outrageous that states would have the latitude to use what is now Title I money for charter school startup grants and support.
In addition to folding together Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies and the Charter Schools Program into the new Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant, the proposed Education budget collapses the following additional programs into the massive block grant: 21st Century Learning Centers, Alaska Native Education, American History and Civics Education, Arts in Education, Comprehensive Centers, Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, Education Innovation and Research, English Language Acquisition, Full-Service Community Schools, High School Equivalency Program, Homeless Education, Innovative Approaches to Literacy, Javits Gifted and Talented, Magnet Schools, Migrant Education, Neglected and Delinquent, Native Hawaiian Education, Promise Neighborhoods, Ready-to-Learn Television, Rural Education, School Safety National Activities, Statewide Family Engagement Center, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Supporting Effective Educator Development, Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, Teacher Quality Partnerships, and Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants.
The collapse of these programs into a massive block grant would basically hollow out the meaning of the Department of Education’s federal commitment to addressing racial and economic injustice across the states through the federal Title I program, created in 1965 as a centerpiece of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Further, it is unclear that the Department could or would provide oversight sufficient to support opportunity for students in marginalized groups. And, as a mass of programs would be tossed together—support for English Language Acquisition, the arts, after school programs, Community Schools, rural education—the loss of small programming would be inevitable. Any of these programs may be dated, dysfunctional, or wasteful, or like the Charter Schools Program, a program may be damaging. But without sufficient debate, the public is likely to lose. It would appear that states and local school districts could do pretty much however they wanted to with their grant.
The President’s proposal to cut funding for Title I and collapse it into a massive federal block grant contrasts with proposals by Democrats running for president. As a commitment to helping public schools that serve masses of very poor children, all of the major candidates have supported tripling or quadrupling Title I funding as the centerpiece of their education plans. Research continues to demonstrate that concentrated family and neighborhood poverty is the primary cause of opportunity gaps that challenge both children and their public schools.
The President’s budget proposal includes Betsy DeVos’s $5 billion proposal for what she calls Education Freedom Scholarships, the federal tuition-tax-credit-voucher proposal she has unsuccessfully floated before. In publicity about the new budget, Betsy DeVos describes her rationale for this program: “This budget proposal is about one thing—putting students and their needs above all else… That starts with creating Education Freedom Scholarships and helping 1 million more students find the best educational fit for them.”
The Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel explain the implications of the inclusion of DeVos’s tuition-tax-credit vouchers in President Trump’s FY 21 budget proposal at the same time the overall Education Budget faces a $5.6 billion reduction: “He is asking for a $5 billion tax break to support private school tuition and other educational expenses…. The proposal was included in last year’s budget but failed to pass Congress with Democrats opposed. If adopted, the tax break would represent a significant shift of federal tax money to private education.”
One positive in the President’s new proposal is the increase of $100 million for programs mandated by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Special education programs are expensive for school districts, and the federal allocation has been grossly inadequate. The President’s FY 21 budget would fund IDEA at nearly $13 billion.
The proposed FY 21 Education Budget also eliminates essential support for student loans for post secondary education. For the Washington Post, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Laura Meckler report: “(T)he budget proposes steep cuts to the student loan program—nearly $5 billion next year and more than $60 billion over five years. The reductions would eliminate popular initiatives such as a loan forgiveness program for students who take public service jobs and subsidized lending for low-income students. Trump would allow undergraduate borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness after a shorter span of time…. However, the program would be less generous for graduate students, who have the highest balances and would have to repay more of their debt before qualifying for forgiveness. The budget plan also caps the amount of money graduate students and parents of undergraduates may borrow. The Trump administration wants to end supplemental grants for low-income students and slash more than half the budget for college work-study programs… The plan came under immediate fire from advocates who want to make college affordable for more students.”
In this election year, Congress is unlikely to adopt the Education budget proposal released this week. The proposed budget would set a new and controversial direction for the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week‘s Ujifusa and Blad remind readers that Congress has never been friendly to President Trump’s education budget proposals: “Trump’s budget proposal marks the fourth straight time the president has sought to cut the Education Department’s budget. Congress has essentially ignored his previous education spending blueprints and approved small increases for the department in each of the past three federal appropriations bills. There’s no particular reason to think Capitol Hill would treat this newest proposal much differently… Last year, Trump proposed a 10 percent cut to the Education Department that would have shaved 10 percent of the agency’s roughly $71 billion budget. As in past years, the administration proposed eliminating $2.1 billion in Title II aid for educator training, $1.2 billion for after-school programs, and $1.1 billion in Title IV block grants for academic enrichment and student well-being. However, the spending bill Trump signed at the end of 2019 actually increased the department’s budget by $1.3 billion up to $72.8 billion. None of the 29 programs he sought to eliminate funding for were actually axed.”