Trump-DeVos Department of Education Cuts Back Civil Rights Enforcement

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) appears to be retreating from aggressive civil rights enforcement when complaints are made. When such complaints were filed during the Obama administration, the OCR examined three years worth of data from the school district where the complaint had been filed to try to uncover any systemic pattern of the violation of students’ rights. The Office of Civil Rights under Betsy DeVos now says it will expedite the processing of complaints by responding only to the individual complaint itself.

ProPublica explains the shift in enforcement strategy in a report released last week: “Under the Obama administration, the department’s office for civil rights applied an expansive approach to investigations. Individual complaints related to complex issues such as school discipline, sexual violence and harassment, equal access to educational resources, or racism at a single school might have prompted broader probes to determine whether the allegations were part of a pattern of discrimination or harassment.”

ProPublica describes the new enforcement policy as described in a recent memo sent by Candice Jackson, DeVos’s acting secretary for civil rights, to regional OCR directors. No one has been nominated for full-time assistant secretary for civil rights, a position that would require confirmation by the Senate. ProPublica summarizes the new enforcement policy: “The office will apply the broader approach ‘only’ if the original allegations raise systemic concerns or the investigative team argues for it… As part of the new approach, the Education Department will no longer require civil rights investigators to obtain three years of complaint data from a specific school or district to assess compliance with civil rights law.”  ProPublica continues: “The department’s new directive also gives more autonomy to regional offices, no longer requiring oversight or review of some cases by department headquarters….”

Candace Jackson has defended the new enforcement policy as designed to resolve cases more quickly and eliminate a backlog of long-running investigations. Reporting for the NY Times, Erica Green explains that many civil rights advocates worry that shallow investigations will fail to uncover injustice: “But civil rights leaders… say that Education Department staff members would be discouraged from opening cases and that investigations could be weakened because efficiency would take priority over thoroughness.”

Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, now leads the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a watch-dog, independent agency without enforcement power, that advises Congress and the President about civil rights concerns.  Alyson Klein reports for Education Week that last week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights “launched a two-year investigation into civil rights practices at several federal agencies under the Trump administration, including the U.S. Department of Education.” Other federal Departments targeted by this investigation are Justice, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

Klein explains: “When it comes to the Education Department, the commission is concerned that Trump’s budget calls for slashing staff at the office for civil rights by 7 percent, or 46 full-time employees. The commission worries that this could lead to an ‘untenable caseload’ of 42 cases per staff member.”

The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown also reports that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has withdrawn guidance issued during the Obama administration guaranteeing transgender students the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. Candace Jackson has “directed its lawyers to consider transgender students’ discrimination complaints on a case-by-case basis.”

Brown describes one staff person at the OCR who remains confident that the new guidance will not reduce protections for transgender students: “One OCR employee, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the memo was a ‘green light’ to move forward with discrimination complaints from transgender students—including those concerning bathroom access.”

However, Brown interviews GLSEN’s executive director, Eliza Byard, who is more skeptical: “But what happens if a transgender student’s complaint is handled by an official who does not believe bathroom access is an issue worthy of investigation?”

In a follow-up article, Emma Brown reports that the Department of Education has now closed two cases involving transgender students: “Officials withdrew the findings of discrimination, (Candace) Jackson said, because those findings were based on guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identity  The Trump administration rescinded that guidance….”

We Can Only Wish that Politicians Would Learn a Lesson from Sam Brownback’s Failed Tax Cutting

It’s budget season. At the federal level, Congress will soon consider the President’s proposed 2018 budget. And many states are up against a June 30th deadline: the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and the deadline for approving a new budget. Yesterday’s post examined the catastrophic programmatic implications of President Trump’s federal budget proposal. Today the focus will be a little different— taxing policy at the state, not the federal level, and the tax slashing that continues to underpin much budgeting in 2017. Please continue reading; I promise this post will not be overly technical.

Much of the talk about state taxing policy these days relates to what just happened in Kansas. Both houses of the Kansas Legislature had voted to overturn several years of Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cutting and at the same time to eliminate a special taxing innovation that reduced business taxes on pass-through income. Governor Brownback, whose dedication to tax cutting is undeterred, vetoed the Legislature’s big tax increase. But two weeks ago, the Legislature—both houses dominated by Republicans—overrode Governor Brownback’s veto. Since Gov. Brownback initiated his experiment with tax cutting, Kansas has fallen into a fiscal crisis, and its public schools had suffered from lack of funding. Earlier this spring, the state’s supreme court had presented an ultimatum to the Legislature: improve school funding by June 30, or school will not open in September.

Brownback has called his tax cuts a real life experiment in supply-side economics. His hypothesis? That the state’s economy would thrive because everybody would be drawn to low-tax-Kansas to open businesses. Explosive economic growth, he predicted, would follow the tax cuts.  Here is Michael Tomasky, writing for the NY Times about how the experiment turned out: “Kansas, under Gov. Sam Brownback, has come as close as we’ve ever gotten in the United States to conducting a perfect experiment in supply-side economics. The conservative governor, working with a conservative State Legislature, in the home state of the conservative Koch brothers, took office in 2011 vowing sharp cuts in taxes and state spending…. The taxes were cut, and by a lot. The cumulative cut was forecast to be $3.9 billion by 2019… The cuts came. But the growth never did… The experiment has been a disaster… Finally, even the Republican Kansas Legislature faced reality.”

Tomasky traces some of this back to Grover Norquist: “Republicans are not supposed to raise taxes, ever. In Washington or in the states. This goes back to President George H.W. Bush’s agreeing to a bipartisan tax increase in 1990 after famously saying in his 1988 campaign, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’  Afterward, the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, started making Republican candidates for Congress and state houses sign a no-tax pledge. Ever since, with scattered exceptions, no Republican member of the House or Senate has voted for a tax increase. For 27 years. If you wonder why problems arise and Congress never does anything about them, the tax pledge is usually the answer, or at least an answer.”

Paul Krugman, the economist and NY Times columnist, calls supply-side tax slashing a “zombie” policy idea: “(T)he term refers to policy ideas that should have been abandoned long ago in the face of evidence and experience, but just keep shambling along. The right’s zombie-in-chief is the insistence that low taxes on the rich are the key to prosperity. This doctrine should have died when Bill Clinton’s tax hike failed to cause the predicted recession and was followed instead by an economic boom. It should have died again when George W. Bush’s tax cuts were followed by lackluster growth, then a crash. And it should have died yet again in the aftermath of the 2013 Obama tax hike—partly expiration of some Bush tax cuts, partly new taxes to pay for Obamacare—when the economy continued jogging along, adding 200,000 jobs a month. Despite the consistent wrongness of their predictions, however, tax-cut fanatics just kept gaining influence in the G.O.P.—until the disaster in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback promised that deep tax cuts would yield an economic miracle. What the state got instead was weak growth and a fiscal crisis, finally pushing even Republicans to vote for tax hikes, overruling Brownback’s veto.”

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, looks at the Kansas story as an important cautionary tale; he remains hopeful but skeptical that legislators in other states and Republicans in Congress will learn the story’s lesson. He spoke about what just happened in Kansas in his speech last week to the Cleveland City Club, where he pointed out that the Kansas lesson should be taken to heart in Ohio, where Governor John Kasich and Ohio’s all-Republican legislature have been running exactly the same experiment as Brownback’s in Kansas, and with similar results: “The Kansas tax cuts represent an important cautionary tale from which both state and federal policymakers should learn. And there are few states where these lessons are more applicable and important than Ohio. Your state has actually cut its top income tax rate even more deeply than Kansas did. Kansas cut its rate 29% since 2012. Ohio has cut its top rate one-third since 2005, from a top rate of 7.5% to just under 5%.  Moreover, one of Kansas’ most damaging tax cuts was eliminating state income tax on what is known as ‘pass-through income’…. Ohio enacted a similar provision—eliminating state income tax on the first $250,000 a year of pass-through income and taxing the rest at just 3%. As in Kansas, the Ohio tax cuts have not delivered the promised results…”

Zach Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio just reported on the fiscal impact of Ohio’s tax cut on pass-through income, “A tax break on business income first enacted in 2013 is now costing Ohio about $1 billion a year. That’s far more than previous public estimates, which didn’t attempt to account for the full value of the break.”

How is all this cautionary history directly relevant in a blog whose primary subject is public education?  Brent Larkin, the retired editorial page director of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, makes the connection perfectly clear in his column in last Sunday’s paper: “Hide the children. Ohio’s legislators need a scapegoat.  And in this state, when the going gets tough, the kids get punished. Sometime between now and June 30, it’ll happen again… With tax revenues in a free fall, the Ohio General Assembly and Gov. John Kasich need to compensate for a multibillion-dollar mistake largely of their own making by inflicting pain on the people they’re supposed to serve, not betray. Like cornered rats, their way out will be to shortchange kids. So they’ll essentially flat-fund most school districts, while slashing support for others, ignoring yet again that ‘thorough and efficient’ system of schools requirement in Article VI of the Ohio Constitution.” And, “they will perpetuate Ohio’s ongoing pattern of shamefully underinvesting in preschool programs.” Larkin continues: “How is it a state that spent the past six years awash in tax revenue now lacks the money to make life-changing investments in a child’s future?  The answer involves a misjudgment so egregious that if it happened in the private sector everyone involved would pay with their jobs. Six years ago, instead of balancing tax cuts with massive investments in the future, Kasich and his legislative conspirators began engineering what now total $5 billion in tax cuts.”

Here is Gordon Lafer—the labor, economics and state policy expert—explaining, in his new book, what he believes to be an even deeper motive of ALEC, Grover Norquist and the huge corporate lobbies who are driving Congress and the state legislatures to adhere zealously to tax-slashing: “The corporate lobbies have pursued an agenda that steadily shrinks public services, including education, health care, libraries, recreation, parks, and transportation. The agenda serves to lower corporate tax bills and creates new markets for those hoping to profit from the privatization of public services. But there are deeper rationales underlying the erosion of public services… At a deeper level, the elimination of basic services serves, over time, to lower popular expectations regarding the standard of living to which one is entitled. For the economic elite—the few seeking to extend their rule over the many—the central political question of this time is how to accelerate economic inequality without provoking a political backlash.  A key component of the answer to this question appears to be an attempt to engineer what might be termed a revolution of falling expectations among the public.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 75-76)

Budget Expert, Robert Greenstein Explores Trump’s Heartless Budget in Cleveland City Club Address

Robert Greenstein, the President of the Washington, D.C., Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, addressed the Cleveland City Club last Friday. Greenstein’s subject was President Trump’s proposed budget and what it will mean for real people. Although Greenstein did not specifically address the federal education budget, what he said has profound and tragic implications for the future of public education as well as for health and social services. I urge you to watch the video or listen to the podcast or read Greenstein’s remarks.

President Trump’s budget, explains Greenstein, is a “topic that should be of grave concern to our nation, the state of Ohio, and the city of Cleveland… The Trump budget is different from any that I’ve seen from any President of either party in the 45 years I’ve been working on these issues… First, it is surprisingly unprofessional. President Trump has outlined a very large tax cut that he says will be one of the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history. Yet his budget makes a series of assumptions that few analysts find credible—such as assumptions of soaring economic growth year after year…. The budget also proposes to repeal the federal estate tax but then continues to count the revenue from it as though the tax would remain in place. And second, the budget proposes the most aggressive, Robin-Hood-in-Reverse, budget and tax policies that any modern President has ever proposed.”

Contrary to what we may have been reading in the paper, Greenstein worries that Congress may actually pass a budget like Trump’s proposal: “Now, you may have heard it said that the Trump budget is dead on arrival in Congress. Please don’t believe it. The Trump budget is, in large part, an exaggerated version of the budget plans that the very conservative House Republican majority has advanced every year since 2011, as well as of the last budget plan that the House and Senate jointly adopted, in 2015. Every one of those budgets would have deeply cut programs for Americans of limited means, deeply cut non-defense discretionary programs, shifted costs to states and localities, and provided substantial tax cuts for those at the top. None of those budgets made their way into law because Barack Obama was president. But now, the White House, House, and Senate are controlled by the same party, and they all have the same general idea about budget cuts and tax cuts.”

The first way Greenstein’s remarks speak to the future of our nation’s public schools is his discussion of the Robin-Hood-In-Reverse budget priorities that will take from the poor and near-poor and reward the rich through massive tax cuts. It has been well established that children’s school achievement is deeply affected by family and neighborhood poverty. Here is a reminder of that fact in a letter sent last year by the Vermont State Board of Education to then-Secretary of Education John King: “Fundamentally, if we are to close the achievement gap, it is imperative that we substantively address the underlying economic and social disparities that characterize our nation, our communities and our schools.  With two-thirds of the score variance attributable to outside of school factors, test score gaps measure the health of our society more than the quality of our schools.”  This blog has explored the effects of poverty on school achievement; see, for example, here, here, and here.

So what does Greenstein tell us about how the President’s proposed budget will affect poor families and children? The budget “proposes remarkably large tax cuts for those at the top and remarkably severe cuts in social programs for those who face hard times—cuts in one program after another for working-poor families, (and) disadvantaged children… which would push millions of Americans either into poverty or deeper into it. The budget is especially harsh on people who live paycheck to paycheck or otherwise struggle to get by…. The budget embraces the House-passed bill to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cause 23 million more American to become uninsured… The budget also cuts nearly $200 billion over ten years from the food stamp program, both by cutting the program directly and by forcing states to pay about one-quarter of food stamp benefit costs…. (T)he Trump budget proposes to end the national food stamp benefit standards, which President Nixon and Congress established on a bipartisan basis after researchers in the late 1960s found rates of child malnutrition and nutrition-related diseases in parts of our country that were akin to the rates in some third-world countries. The Trump budget would turn back the clock.”

Greenstein continues: “In other areas, the budget would turn the clock back even further, to decades well before the 1960s. There’s a part of the federal budget known as non-defense-discretionary programs. This includes most of the federal spending for education, job training, scientific research, and transportation—important building blocks for a healthy economy in the future. It also includes funds for environmental protection, food safety, national parks, veterans’ health care, and a number of important programs to help low-and modest-income families, like low-income housing assistance, Head Start, and child care. This part of the budget has already been squeezed heavily in recent years. But the Trump budget would cut it so much more deeply that by 2017, total non-defense discretionary spending would be at its lowest level, as a share of the economy, since Herbert Hoover was president.”

In his remarks to the Cleveland City Club, Greenstein also addresses a second way that the new budget, if passed, will threaten public education. Again, the specific topic of public education is not a focus, but the implications are clear as Greenstein explains how the new budget, if passed, will dump the responsibility for paying for an enormous burden of previously federally funded programs onto states and localities. As readers of this blog are surely aware, the states take care of roughly half of education funding, with most of the rest paid for by local school districts. The federal government itself pays less than ten percent of K-12 education. Because education is the biggest line in many state budgets, it is among the only places (apart from or on top of massive state tax increases) where significant money could be found to pay for huge added costs for Medicaid and other added health care costs, food stamps, TANF, housing assistance and all the rest. And according to Greenstein, this federal budget bill is designed to demand that, as time passes, states must cover more and more of the costs previously paid for by the federal government.

For his Cleveland audience, Greenstein explains how shifting the cost of social and health programming would affect Ohio alone: “By the way, one-third of federal non-defense discretionary spending is for grants to state and local governments to help them deliver important services. The Trump budget cuts would hit Ohio and Cleveland hard. As just one of many examples, in 2018 alone, Ohio would lose $137 million in Community Development Block Grant funding….” “Ohio’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which insures 700,000 people, would end.  On top of that, the (budget) bill cuts federal funding for Ohio’s entire Medicaid program, with the cuts growing larger with each passing year; this would place the state’s 3 million Medicaid enrollees, and Ohio’s health care providers, at risk.” The proposed shift of food stamp costs to Ohio’s budget would be $4 billion over ten years.

Just a week ago, Greenstein’s colleagues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Iris Lav and Michael Leachman, published a major report, The Trump Budget’s Massive Cuts to State and Local Services and Programs, which details what cuts to state and local governments will mean for the people who lose services unless states can find a way to compensate for federal cuts.

First there are entitlement programs (and this report calls food stamps by the acronym for its current name, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. SNAP): “Entitlement (or mandatory) programs are ongoing; they continue as they are unless policymakers change them. The Trump budget would significantly change three entitlements—Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF—and eliminate a fourth, the Social Services Block Grant.”

Then there are programs that are funded each year when Congress appropriates the money for specific budget lines—the part of the budget called Non-Defense Discretionary Spending: “The total cut to discretionary grants for states and localities would amount to $28 billion in 2018 and grow to about $82 billion a year by 2027.”  Programs eliminated are Low Income Energy Assistance; HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grant and Choice Neighborhoods; the Community Services Block Grant; and two education programs—the 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school programs, and Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants (30 percent of these funds are used for class-size reduction and the rest for teacher professional development).

Make no mistake.  Eliminating  all these programs and reducing the federal budget for a host of others will hurt vulnerable families and children. And the federal cuts, even to programs that are not directly related to public schools, will inevitably further reduce state expenditures on public education when states struggle try to rearrange the budget to help desperate people who need health and social services. Here are Lav and Leachman in last week’s report: “Some may argue that states could pay for and continue these programs, rather than have people suffer the consequences of losing assistance and opportunities. The President’s March budget blueprint (the earlier Skinny Budget) repeatedly comments that various programs should be transferred to the states, with no mention of additional resources to support the transfer. The reality, however, is that states lack the wherewithal to replace the magnitude of funds they would lose under the budget. States operate under balanced budget requirements, and most states are already struggling to balance their current budgets, even before any federal cost shifts. Recent state revenue growth has been weaker than expected, leaving 28 states with budget shortfalls this fiscal year… Most of these states have responded by cutting services, using reserves, and taking other steps to balance their budgets…. More than half the states lack the revenue needed to maintain services at existing levels in 2018.”

Robert Greenstein’s speech to the Cleveland City Club is a clear and easy way to become better informed about the outrageous heartlessness of the budget Trump and Congress are considering.  I urge you to watch the video or listen to the podcast or read Greenstein’s remarks.  Then be in touch with your U.S. Senators.

Betsy DeVos: When an Opponent of Government Joins the Government

Are you tired of hearing Betsy DeVos repeat her one idea about education—that parents should have the right to choose their children’s school? Why does she not branch out a little bit at least and consider the issues that are supposed to be within the purview of the U.S. Department of Education, the agency of which she is now in charge? Why does she never seem really to appreciate the work of public school teachers in the schools she visits? (To read about Betsy DeVos’s Senate testimony on Tuesday about her department’s federal budget proposal, read Valerie Strauss’s report.)

Sitting on my desk are copies of two recent reflections on Betsy DeVos’s beliefs and how her ideas shape her leadership.

First Peter Greene, the Pennsylvania school teacher and blogger, critiques a statement from the American Federation for Children (AFC), the advocacy organization that Betsy DeVos founded and whose board she chaired until she became our U.S. Secretary of Education.  Greene is bothered by this statement from AFC, a declaration that sounds exactly like Betsy DeVos: “It is school choice—directly empowering parents to choose the best educational environment for their child—that is the most democratic of ideas.”

Green responds:  “Nope, nope, nope, nopity nope. There are arguments to be made for parent choice, but ‘it’s the essence of democracy’ is not one of them…  Democracy is not, ‘My fellow taxpayers have to pay for whatever I decide on my own that I want.’…  It is the taxpayers’ money, and the taxpayers have given it to support a system that will educate all students in the community through an institution managed by elected representatives of those taxpayers…. Democracy is about coming together as a group to discuss, debate, (hopefully) compromise, and elect folks who will decide how best to manage our resources.”

Second, Harold Meyerson in The American Prospect reflects on charter schools, economic inequality and a belief in free markets: “The billionaires, apparently, we shall always have with us—even when we decide how to run the state-funded schools where they rarely send their own kids… Indeed, we have to go back to the economic polarization of pre-New Deal America to find a time when the super-rich felt so compelled to better the lot of the poor, as they understood it. Andrew Carnegie, who grew mightily rich by building the American steel industry, famously established libraries in thousands of cities and towns. Though, unlike today’s charter backers, he wasn’t draining off funds that could go to public libraries in the process. What Carnegie and today’s pro-charter rich have in common is a belief in individual betterment…. They also share a fierce opposition to collective betterment, manifested in their respective battles against unions and, in many cases, against governmentally established standards and services. Living in separate eras when the middle class was—and is—embattled and the gap between rich and poor was—and is—immense, billionaires have largely shunned the fights that might truly narrow that gap: raising the minimum wage, making public colleges and universities free, funding sufficient public investment to create genuine full employment…. As the billionaires see it, it’s the lack of skills, not the dysfunctions of the larger economic system that… is the cause of our national woes.  Pure of heart though some of them may be, the charter billionaires have settled on a diagnosis, and a cure, that focuses on the deficiencies of the system’s victims, not the system itself.  How very comforting for them.”

Unrelated as their statements at first appear, both Greene and Meyerson are condemning the kind of libertarian education philosophy embraced by Betsy DeVos.  Libertarianism situates individuals as competitors in a market-driven world and rewards persistent and determined strivers.  Greene castigates the libertarian idea that parental choice is the essence of democracy, because he knows that the mass of private parental choices will not, as libertarians assume, come to define what’s good for all of us. Likewise Meyerson attacks libertarian assumptions as he contrasts the idea that marketplace school choice will be the path for individual betterment to the theory that public policy should compensate for the deficiencies and excesses of an alarmingly unequal market economy.

That libertarian Betsy DeVos seems out of place leading a government bureaucracy should not be surprising; after all she is not an educator and she has called government-operated schools “a dead end”  She married into Amway, the family business that most perfectly defines the libertarian idea of the entrepreneurship of the individual.  The very name of the company, “Amway”—where individuals contract to sell products door-to-door and recruit other individual sales associates—is short for “the American Way.”

Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson reject the market-driven, libertarian direction that now pervades DeVos’s Department of Education. In their 2016 book, American Amnesia, they make the case for government as an absolutely necessary balance for markets in a mixed economy: “The mixed economy is a social institution, a human solution to human problems. Private capitalism and public coercion each predated modern prosperity. Governments were involved in the market long before the mixed economy. What made the difference was the marriage of large-scale profit-seeking activity, active democratic governance, and a deepened understanding of how markets work (and where they work poorly)” (American Amnesia, p. 7)

Hacker and Pierson explain: “That markets fall short under certain conditions has been known for at least two centuries… Adam Smith wrote enthusiastically about the ‘invisible hand’ of market allocation. Yet he also identified many cases where rational actors pursuing their own self-interest produced bad outcomes: underinvestment in education, financial instability, insufficient infrastructure, unchecked monopolies. Economists have been building on these insights ever since to explain when and why markets stumble and how the visible hand of government can make the invisible hand more effective. The visible hand is needed, for example, to provide key collective goods that markets won’t…. reduce negative spillover costs that parties to market exchanges don’t bear fully…. encourage positive spillover benefits that such parties don’t take fully into account…. regulate the market to protect consumers and investors…. provide or require certain insurance protections…. and soften the business cycle and reduce the risk of financial crises.” (American Amnesia, p. 4-5)

So how does all this help explain our dilemma today as we live with a government-despising libertarian as the leader of our government’s Department of Education?

We’ll start briefly with Hacker and Pierson, who speak specifically to education: “(M)ass schooling has never occurred in the absence of government leadership. The most fundamental reason is that education is not merely a private investment but also a social investment: It improves overall economic (and civic) outcomes at least as much as it benefits individuals. Ultimately, only the public sector has the incentive… and the means… to make that investment happen… Mass education mobilizes an enormous amount of untapped human talent into the economy; the benefits accrue not only to those who go to school but to society as a whole.”(American Amnesia, p. 65)

Then there is the matter of the role of government to protect civil rights. In hearings before Congress Betsy DeVos has persistently (and frustratingly) skirted questions about the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Education for protecting students’ civil rights.  DeVos almost always responds to such questions with a defense of parents’ personal right to choose a school for their children. She doggedly explains that if things are not going well at school, parents should have the right to choose another school. Pauline Lipman, a Chicago education theorist, responded several years ago to what she calls the “neoliberal” (libertarian) thinking of the school privatizers promoting the rapid expansion of charter schools in Chicago. Lipman does not idealize the public schools. In fact she believes that privatization initiatives like Arne Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 were a response to the poorly funded, under-staffed and overwhelmed neighborhood public schools.  But privatization has not, she believes, addressed the needs of Chicago’s children: “The Keynesian welfare state framed people as citizens with certain civil rights and the state as responsible for a minimal level of social well-being. Although the welfare state was deeply exclusionary, there were grounds to collectively fight to extend civil rights. Claims could legitimately be made on the state. In the neoliberal social imaginary, rather than ‘citizens’ with rights, we are consumers of services  People are ’empowered’ by taking advantage of opportunities in the market, such as school choice…. One improves one’s life situation by becoming an ‘entrepreneur of oneself’….” (The New Political Economy of Urban Education, p. 11)

The late Benjamin Barber reminds us, however, that as consumers of services, we lack the rights of democratic citizens who can, at least in theory, choose representatives with the power to protect our interests.  With privatization, “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)  In Chicago and Detroit, a primary source of inequality has been that charter operators themselves, without public oversight, have been permitted to choose the neighborhoods in which they have sited their schools—without any consideration of the overabundance of schools in some neighborhoods and the shortage of schools in other neighborhoods.

Tony Judt, the late British historian, reminds us that one of the failures of libertarian privatization is that the public seems always to have to keep on subsidizing the services which have been privatized: “What we have been watching is the steady shift of public responsibility onto the private sector to no discernible collective advantage. Contrary to economic theory and popular myth, privatization is inefficient.  Most of the things that governments have seen fit to pass into the private sector were operating at a loss: whether they were railway companies, coal mines, postal services, or energy utilities, they cost more to provide and maintain than they could ever hope to attract in revenue.” (Ill Fares the Land, p 109)  If DeVos is able to lead Congress to expand the privatization of education, Congress, state legislatures and local property taxpayers will commence sending more public funds to pay tuition at religious schools whose students would likely never have attended public schools in the first place. And taxpayers will pay for the outrageous profits for the owners and operators of behemoth online virtual schools like K-12,Inc.

How can Betsy DeVos be confident that parents are well enough informed to make good school choices for their children? Here are Hacker and Pierson worrying about uneven access to information: “Even more widespread are issues related to consumer myopia, when consumers know too little or focus on the wrong things or don’t look far enough into the future to make wise choices… The emerging field of ‘behavioral economics’ incorporates insights from psychologists about the many ways in which actual human decision making falls short—way short—of the traditional economics assumption of perfect information, perfectly processed.” (American Amnesia, p. 81)  In huge charter school marketplaces like New Orleans and Detroit, a primary criticism has been poor information made available to parents about the array of schools.

Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine worry that privatization, in the form of rapid growth of charter schools, has worsened inequality in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities.  The best charters may be a lifeboat for a few children, but only for a very few: “The rationing of charter education has resulted in an increasing clamor for exit, an intensifying allure of all things private, and the migration of public resources out of neighborhood schools in the poorest areas. This intensifying disinvestment is accompanied by ever more symbolic forms of private education reform that substitute modest investments in a small number of communities and schools for needed levels of targeted investment. Clearly the conditions necessary to reinvent learning and instruction… for a majority of poor students of color cannot be achieved within this intellectually arid and fiscally degraded reform box. The bottom line is that if we are serious about education reform, it will require that the 95% of students not affected by charter schooling be paid equal attention… Ultimately, charter policy hides a profound failure of political will—more specifically, a failure of business, legislative, and media leadership to support the kinds of budgets, taxation, and targeted investment necessary to revive public education as a key element of social and economic development and racial justice in the poorest communities.” (Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education, p 87)

None of this alleviates our dilemma posed by the appointment of a libertarian who despises government as the leader of our government’s education department. It is helpful, however, to keep in mind all of this thinking from the critics of libertarian education theory.  At least it explains why many of us are so frustrated and so angry.

Public education is among our society’s largest and most pervasive civic institutions. It is, therefore, also helpful to keep in mind a definition of institutional justice from an ethicist, the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman: “Justice is the community’s guarantee of the conditions necessary for everybody to be a participant in the common life of society. It is just to structure institutions and laws in such a way that communal life is enhanced and individuals are provided full opportunity for participation.” Justice in education must be systemic; it cannot be achieved through competition in a privatized education marketplace that produces losers as well as winners.

Why Betsy DeVos Is Wrong about Privatization of Education: Growing Consensus about Charters

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos relentlessly promotes school privatization—framed as parental choice—through such schemes as charter schools and virtual charter schools, and vouchers and neo-vouchers like tax credits and education savings accounts.  If you need clarification, Valerie Strauss, in the Washington Post, has published a primer to explain all these ways of redirecting public money to schools that are not publicly operated.

As DeVos relentlessly assaults our system of public education, a danger for our society is that, becoming exhausted, citizens will merely accommodate themselves to what begins to seem inevitable or capitulate and accept some sort of compromise. In the case of school choice, any compromise that directs tax dollars away from the public institution that serves the majority of our children is a poor policy.

Those who have watched charter school growth in their communities, academic researchers, and national organizations continue to explore the challenges posed by the expansion of charter schools.

Last week the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a comprehensive critique—a Statement on Charter Schools—which begins by reviewing the primary importance of public education: “A common school is a public institution, which nurtures and teaches all who live within its boundaries, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual preference or learning ability. All may enroll—regardless of when they seek to enter the school or where they were educated before…. (T)axpayers bear the responsibility for funding those schools and… funding should be ample and equitable to address the needs of the served community.”

Despite the claims of their proponents who dub them “public”charter schools, NPE explains: “By definition, a charter school is not a public school. Charter schools are formed when a private organization contracts with a government authorizer to open and run a school. Charters are managed by private boards, often with no connection to the community they serve. The boards of many leading charter chains are populated by billionaires who often live far away from the school they govern.”

“Charter schools do not serve all children… By means of school closures and failed takeover practices… disadvantaged communities lose their public schools to charter schools. Not only do such communities lose the school, but they also lose their voice in school governance.”

The Network for Public Education demands “an immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools” and “look(s) forward to the day when charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”  NPE adds that until charter schools are publicly governed, there is a need for legislation and regulation to ensure public accountability over the stewardship of tax dollars, transparent public governance, protection of students’ rights and each school’s attention to academic standards and qualifications of teachers.

NPE’s Statement on Charter Schools is short and comprehensive. Please read and consider it.  NPE backs up the statement with a toolkit of resources about the danger of school privatization.

At the end of May, from a very different social location, Jitu Brown published a critique of charter school expansion in America’s black and brown communities. Brown is a Chicago community organizer and the director of the national Journey for Justice Alliance. He was a leader in Chicago’s 2015 hunger strike that forced the Chicago Public Schools to reopen a neighborhood comprehensive high school in the South Side, Bronzeville neighborhood. Brown challenges Betsy DeVos:  “Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems not to hear the fierce protests of parents, teachers and school officials over school closings and charter expansion in New York, Chicago, Oakland, Detroit and other American cities… In truth, school choice does not exist in most black and brown communities in the United States… What DeVos fails to understand is the intentional structural racism that has been accepted by Democrats and Republicans, where children from black and brown communities are intentionally underserved by the system all citizens pay taxes into.  In Chicago, a child who goes to a neighborhood school near DePaul University enjoys a teacher’s aide in every class, robotics, debate teams, fully stocked libraries and after-school programs; while on the south side of the same city, in some schools there is one teacher’s aide in the building, with no library, no world language and 42 kindergarten students in one class… DeVos has not yet learned that we, meaning black and brown families, don’t have the choice of great neighborhood schools within safe walking distance of our homes. In addition to the harm school closings inflict on students’ academic development and safety, only one out of five charter schools outperforms traditional public schools, despite the fact they can pick the children they want and discard the ones they don’t.”

Brown asks not for expanded school choice, but instead for quality neighborhood public schools in the poorest communities—“what many children from middle-class white and upper-income families enjoy: a robust, rigorous and relevant curriculum, support for high quality teaching (smaller classes, teacher aides, effective professonal development), wrap-around supports for every child (nurses, counselors, clubs, after-school programs), a student-centered school climate, transformative parent and community engagement and inclusive school leadership.”

And last week Mark Weber, the school finance researcher in New Jersey, summed up on his personal blog conclusions drawn from  growing charter school research in Newark: “As a proportion of total population, the Newark Public Schools enroll many more students with the costliest special education disabilities. We’ve been over this time and again: while some Newark charters have upped their enrollments of special education students, the students they do take tend to have the less-costly disabilities: Specific Learning Disabilities… and Speech/Language Disabilities. The charters take very few students who are emotionally disturbed, or hearing impaired, or have intellectual disabilities, or any of the other higher-cost disabilities… Just to be clear: I don’t think charters should be attempting to educate these students with special needs. By all indications, they don’t have the capacity to do the job correctly. NPS (Newark Public Schools) has a much lower ‘student load’ per support staff member than the charters. These support staff include counselors, occupational and physical therapists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, learning disability teacher consultants, reading specialists, sign language interpreters, speech correction specialists, and so on. It would be highly inefficient to staff every charter school and network in the city with all of these staff.”

All of this recent work amplifies a growing consensus among researchers and advocates. Rutgers University professor of school finance, Bruce Baker, has explained the collateral damage to the public school system and to entire communities when charters are expanded.  In a report published last November by the Economic Policy Institute, Baker showed how expansion of charter schools destabilizes big city school districts: “(C)harters established within districts operate primarily in competition, not cooperation with their host, to serve a finite set of students and draw from a finite pool of resources. One might characterize this as a parasitic model… one in which the condition of the host is of little concern to any single charter operator. Such a model emerges because under most state charter laws, locally elected officials—boards of education—have limited control over charter school expansion within their boundaries, or over resources that must be dedicated to charter schools…. Some of the more dispersed multiple authorizer governance models have been plagued by weak accountability, financial malfeasance, and persistently low-performing charter operators, coupled with rapid unfettered, under-regulated growth.”

Baker continues: “If we consider a specific geographic space, like a major urban center, operating under the reality of finite available resources (local, state, and federal revenues), the goal is to provide the best possible system for all children citywide….  Chartering, school choice, or market competition are not policy objectives in-and-of-themselves. They are merely policy alternatives—courses of policy action—toward achieving these broader goals and must be evaluated in this light. To the extent that charter expansion or any policy alternative increases inequity, introduces inefficiencies and redundancies, compromises financial stability, or introduces other objectionable distortions to the system, those costs must be weighed against expected benefits.”

Finally, last autumn, the NAACP, our nation’s oldest civil rights organization, raised serious concerns when its national convention passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the establishment or expansion of charter schools until:

  • “Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools;
  • “Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system;
  • “Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate;
  • (Charter schools) cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

All of these individuals and organizations understand that, because public schools are responsible to the public, it is possible through elected school boards, open meetings, transparent record keeping and redress through the courts to ensure that traditional public schools serve all children. While no enormous network of schools can be perfect, the public schools remain the best system for serving the needs and protecting the rights of all our children.

State Cuts to Education Funding Demonstrate Impact of National, Far-Right Tax-Slashing Agenda

Emma Brown’s recent Washington Post report about four-day school weeks in Oklahoma provides the textbook example of the political phenomenon described by Gordon Lafer in his new book, The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time (Cornell University Press, 2017).

Here is Emma Brown: “A deepening budget crisis here has forced schools across the Sooner State to make painful decisions. Class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign-language programs have shrunk or disappeared, and with no money for new textbooks, children go without. Perhaps the most significant consequence: Students in scores of districts are now going to school just four days a week… Of 513 school districts in Oklahoma, 96 have lopped Fridays or Mondays off their schedules, nearly triple the number in 2015 and four times as many as in 2013. An additional 44 are considering cutting instructional days by moving to a four-day week in the fall….”

Gordon Lafer explains that in the November 2010 election, “Eleven state governments switched from Democratic or divided control to unified Republican control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Since these lawmakers took office in early 2011, the United States has seen an unprecedented wave of legislation aimed at lowering labor standards and slashing public services.” (p. 2) “In January 2011, legislatures across the country took office under a unique set of circumstances. In many states, new majorities rode to power on the energy of the Tea Party ‘wave’ election and the corporate-backed RedMap campaign…  (T)his was the first class of legislators elected under post-Citizens United campaign finance rules, and the sudden influence of unlimited money in politics was felt across the country. Finally, the 2011 legislative sessions opened in the midst of record budget deficits (from the Great Recession), creating an atmosphere of fiscal crisis that made it politically feasible to undertake more dramatic legislation than might otherwise have been possible… For the corporate lobbies and their legislative allies, the 2010 elections created a strategic opportunity to restructure labor relations, political power, and the size of government.” (p 44)

Oklahoma was one of the eleven states that turned all-Red in 2011; the others were Maine, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Wyoming.  Today, after the 2016 election, the number of all-Red states has reached 25.  And, while it might seem to the residents of any one of these states that a climate of tax slashing, union bashing, and cutting public services reflects some kind of new trend among their voters, a more intentional national strategy is instead pushing the agenda into their state from the outside. Lafer explains: “Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once famously quipped that ‘all politics is local’—suggesting that even members of Congress are ultimately elected on the basis of their reputation for solving local problems. The past few years, however, have stood this axiom on its head. Local politics have become nationalized with state legislation written by lobbyists representing national and multinational corporations… In fact, lawmakers… (have been) enacting the agenda of national corporate interests that had spent years preparing for just such a moment.” (p. 49)

Lafer continues: “Political science traditionally views policy initiatives as emerging from either reasoned evaluation of what has worked to address a given social problem, or a strategic response to public opinion. But the corporate agenda for education reform is neither. Its initiatives are not the product of education scholars and often have little or no evidentiary basis to support them. They are also broadly unpopular… In this sense, education policy… provides an instructive window into the ability of corporate lobbies to move an extremely broad and ambitious agenda that is supported neither by social scientific evidence nor by the popular will.” (p. 130)

Who are the corporate lobbies crafting and pushing the anti-tax, union-bashing, anti-public education agenda? “Almost all of these initiatives reflect ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) model legislation, and have been championed by the Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, and a wide range of allied corporate lobbies.” (p. 130)  “Furthermore, the corporate agenda is carried out through an integrated network that operates on multiple channels at once: funding ALEC to write bills, craft legislative talking points, and provide a meeting place for legislators and lobbyists to build relationships; supporting local think tanks in the ALEC-affiliated State Policy Network to produce white papers, legislative testimony, opinion columns, and media experts; contributing to candidate campaigns and party committees; making independent expenditures on behalf of lawmakers or issues; and deploying field organizers to key legislative districts.” (p. 39)

A primary strategy is tax cutting: “‘The best way to stimulate the economy,’ insisted a senior fellow at the Koch-funded Cato Institute, is ‘to shrink government… lower marginal tax rates, and streamline regulations.’  The corporate right’s exhortations for an unprecedented policy of cutting taxes and services in the midst of recession was not an evidence-based policy and indeed did not yield the economic growth its proponents forecast… There was no reason to believe that tax cuts were the key to economic recovery.  However continuing tax cuts achieved something else; they dramatically—and perhaps permanently—shrank the size of government.” (p. 65)

How has all this affected public education?  “(B)udget cuts were particularly widespread—and particularly devastating—in the country’s school systems. In 2010-11, 70 percent of all U.S. school districts made cuts to essential services. Despite widespread evidence of the academic and economic value of preschool education, twelve states cut pre-K funding that year, including Arizona, which eliminated it completely. Ohio repealed full-day kindergarten and cut its preschool program to the point that it served 75 percent fewer four-year-olds than it had a decade earlier. Pennsylvania also cut back from full-day to half-day kindergarten in many districts—including Philadelphia, which also eliminated 40 percent of its teaching staff…. More than half the nation’s school districts changed their thermostat settings…. Research shows that the availability of trained librarians makes a significant improvement in student reading and writing skills, yet by 2014, one-third of public schools in the country lacked a full-time certified librarian.” (p. 69)

Lafer explores the reasons far-right tax-slashers have attacked public education, including all the money to be made by privatizing large parts of our nation’s biggest and most pervasive civic institution, in which, “the sums involved… are an order of magnitude larger than any other service.” (p. 129) But he believes another motive of the privatizers is far more significant: “Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence. In this sense… for those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than that around public education.” (p. 129)

Which brings us back to Emma Brown’s recent piece in the Washington Post about Oklahoma, where parents and teachers are getting used to a reduced school week only four days long: “Oklahoma stands out for the velocity with which districts have turned to a shorter school week in the past several years, one of the most visible signs of a budget crisis that has also shuttered rural hospitals, led to overcrowded prisons and forced state troopers to abide by a 100-mile daily driving limit. Democrats helped pass bipartisan income tax cuts from 2004-2008. Republicans—who have controlled the legislature since 2009 and the governorship since 2011—have cut income taxes further and also significantly lowered taxes on oil and gas production… Facing a $900 million budget gap, lawmakers approved a budget (last) Friday that will effectively hold school funding flat in the next year. In Washington, President Trump has proposed significant education cuts that would further strain local budgets… Oklahoma’s education spending has decreased 14 percent per child since 2008…. Oklahoma has not raised teachers’ salaries since 2008, and the average salary in 2013—$44,128—put the state at 49th in the nation…. Teachers are leaving in droves for better-paying jobs across state lines…. And the number of positions filled by emergency-certified teachers—who have no education training… is now 35 times as high as it was in 2011.”

This week Valerie Strauss published  a reflection by an Oklahoma school teacher, a companion piece to Emma Brown’s report.  Shawn Sheehan is the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. At the end of this school year, he is leaving his position at Norman High School to take a job in Texas. His wife is also leaving her position in a Norman, Oklahoma school to accept a Texas teaching position. Sheehan explains: “(A)t the end of the day, the simple truth is that we can be paid a respectable wage for doing the same job—this job we love very much—by heading out of state… We could stay, but it would cost our family—specifically our sweet baby girl… We, like you, want what’s best for our children and she deserves to grow up in a state that values education. And so do your children.”

Trump’s Budget Proposal Neglects Children and Defines Human Decency Down

From the perspective of the welfare of America’s children, the assumptions underneath President Donald Trump’s 2018 federal budget proposal are deeply troubling. The budget reinforces the theory that everybody ought to be earning a living, but except for Ivanka Trump’s idea for six weeks of newborn parental leave, there really isn’t any recognition that child rearing is a kind of work. The budget reflects that as a society we have just come to expect that children are raised, but we neither pay much attention to how that’s supposed to happen nor respect those who do the rearing. According to that logic, we fail to honor not only the work of mothers and fathers but also the work of child care providers. The minimum wage is so low that these workers qualify for Medicaid and SNAP (today’s name for food stamps). The President’s new budget slashes federal funding for Medicaid and for SNAP and fully eliminates a well respected and federally funded after-school program designed to enrich children’s lives in the hours before their parents finish work.

And there are big questions about whether Ivanka’s parental leave program would work for low-income parents. Here is the Center for Law and Social Policy: “In the midst of this grim context for working families, the budget attempts to throw them a small bone with a plan to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child. In reality, though, this proposed program would do very little for low-income families. If states set wage replacement comparable to the unemployment insurance rates, that would leave many low-income workers unable to make ends meet while on  leave and therefore unlikely to use the program.”

The NY Times editorial board is blunt in its condemnation of the priorities in Trump’s budget proposal: “Food stamps work. Each month they help feed 43 million poor and low-income Americans, most in families with children and working parents. Food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, keep millions of people from falling into poverty each year and prevent millions of poor people, many disabled or elderly, from falling deeper into poverty. They also improve the future prospects of poor children by fostering better health and graduation rates… President Trump’s budget plan would destroy the food stamp program, on the pretense that it discourages work. That’s nonsense, because most adult recipients either work or are unable to do so because of age or disability. A more plausible explanation is that cutting food stamps would help to offset the cost of huge tax cuts for the rich.”

The Child Welfare League of America lists programs that help children and their families but are being eliminated altogether in Trump’s budget: the Social Services Block Grant, the 21st Century Afterschool Learning Centers, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Community Development Block Grant.

The budget further reduces Medicaid, much below the cuts already passed last month in the House effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Here is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The budget would cut health assistance to low-and moderate-income people by $1.9 trillion over ten years: 1) $1.3 trillion from the House bill to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the budget endorses—which would take health insurance from 23 million people, raise out-of-pocket health costs for millions more, and substantially weaken key protections for people with pre-existing conditions—and 2) $610 billion Medicaid cuts on top of that.”

First Focus adds that the budget also makes deep cuts to the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program: “As with Medicaid, the Trump budget proposal not only slashes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it fundamentally restructures the program.  Despite proposing a two-year extension for CHIP through 2019, it cuts allotments by a staggering $5.8 billion or 21 percent. CHIP is an enormously successful bipartisan program that covers 8.9 million kids and, since its inception in 1997, has reduced the number of uninsured children by an astounding 68 percent. But its funding is set to expire on September 30, so Congress must act to extend the program as soon as possible.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy puts some of this into context: “The budget slashes or eliminates a wide range of other crucial programs that help stabilize low-income families. For example, it eliminates assistance for low-income families and seniors to pay heating and cooling bills. It takes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) away from children living with immigrant, tax-paying parents who file their taxes using an Individualized Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)—a group of about 5 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens.  And it would cut the TANF block grant by 10 percent for all states—and more for some—on top of a 30 percent reduction in the block grant as a result of inflation since its enactment 20 years ago, sharply reducing state resources to help low-income families avoid destitution.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy also summarizes budget cuts that will make college less affordable for lower income students: “For low-income students pursuing postsecondary education, the budget is a perfect storm of cuts—making it far harder for students to complete the education they need to move up on the job.  The budget proposal would slash funding for the Work-Study program by almost 50 percent, eliminating employment for more than 300,000 low-income students working their way through college, about 25 percent of whom have an income below $12,000. The budget would also remove $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant budget, threatening to destabilize the program, which already covers less than 30 percent of the average cost of college attendance. The maximum Pell Grant amount is proposed to be frozen at $5,920, which would end the past five years of automatic inflation adjustments. The budget also proposes to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which helps cover college costs for more than 1.6 million students with the greatest need each year; abolish subsidized student loans, which prevent interest from accruing on college loans for low-and moderate-income students while they are in school; and end loan forgiveness for students who go into lower-paying public service careers”

While cuts to K-12 federal education programs seem small compared to some of these reductions to health and human services programs that serve families and children, remember that states and local school districts provide the bulk of education funding. Federal funds for education are, however, essential and have already been radically reduced in recent years due to budget austerity through sequestration. Here is Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explaining years’ of slashing federal funding for what is called Non-Defense Discretionary Spending (non-entitlement spending for domestic programs and foreign aid): “As expected, the budget slashes non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs by $54 billion below the already-austere sequestration level for 2018 and by a remarkable $1.6 trillion over the next decade—taking NDD spending in 2018 to its lowest level as a percent of the economy in six decades—and after ten years, to levels as a percent of the economy not seen since the Hoover Administration and possibly even earlier… Indeed, his proposed NDD funding levels strain credulity. In 2027, the Administration calls for cutting funding for NDD programs $218 billion below the 2017 level, adjusted for inflation—that is, cutting NDD 41 percent by 2027.”

Although this budget will certainly not be enacted by Congress as proposed, the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz accuses the Trump administration of “giving a license for… extremism in thinking about the social fabric in our country.” The NY Times editorial board echoes Stiglitz’s concern: “The proposed cuts have little chance of enactment, but they are still dangerous. Extreme proposals are a way to make less extreme proposals seem acceptable.”  This budget encourages Americans to embrace radical individualism, abandon commitment to the social contract, and define decency down.