Trump’s K-12 Education Budget Expands Choice, Won’t Help Public Schools Meet Myriad Needs

On Wednesday, the Washington Post acquired a leaked, near final copy of the budget the Department of Education is preparing as part of President Trump’s full budget proposal scheduled for release on May 23. This document reflects the same priorities outlined in what was called “the skinny budget,” released in mid-March.

Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week summarizes the overall direction of the proposal leaked on Wednesday: “President Donald Trump’s full education budget proposal for fiscal 2018 would make notable cuts to the U.S. Department of Education and leverage existing programs for disadvantaged students and K-12 innovation to promote school choice…. Trump’s full education funding blueprint would cut $9.2 billion, or 13.6 percent, from the Education Department’s current $68 billion budget….”

Ujifusa continues, describing the “Title I Portability” plan which is part of the proposal that surfaced Wednesday: “Also, the spending plan calls for the creation of a new, $1 billion federal grant program under Title I to allow students to take federal, state, and local dollars to their public school of choice.  That money would be added to the $15.9 billion Title I receives this budget year….”  Ujifsa reminds us that currently Title I funding is distributed entirely by formula.

Keep in mind that Title I Portability would undermine the purpose of Title I, as it was designed in the original 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: providing supplementary funding for school districts serving concentrations of children in poverty. Helping the public schools that serve our nation’s poorest children is a big problem because our society is becoming more segregated economically. Under Trump’s Title I Portability proposal, if a poor student were to transfer to a wealthier public school district, that child would carry her funding, including the extra Title I money. The poor district—still in need of help because it is serving a mass of poor children, including a significant homeless population as well as students who are part of the county’s foster care system—would lose the Title I dollars intended to help its schools.

The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel collaborated to explain the many implications of the documents they received Wednesday. They describe the new $1 billion added to Title I to encourage school districts to undertake or expand existing school choice programs: “Though Trump and DeVos are proponents of local control, their proposal to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies is reminiscent of the way the Obama administration offered federal money to states that agreed to adopt its preferred education policies through a program called Race to the Top.”

While the added $1 billion to Title I would help develop and expand school choice, it appears that the Title I formula itself would receive the same funding as it has in the current fiscal year—with one adjustment. The Post‘s reporters explain: “Under the administration’s budget, two of the department’s largest expenditures in K-12 education, special education and Title I funds to help poor children, would remain unchanged compared to federal funding levels in the first half of fiscal 2017.  However, high-poverty schools are likely to receive fewer dollars than in the past because of a new law that allows states to use up to 7 percent of Title I money for school improvement before distributing it to districts.”

Like the “skinny budget” released in March, the document leaked on Wednesday increases the $333 million federal Charter Schools Program to $500 million, a 50 percent increase, despite that this program has been condemned for poor oversight in reports from the U.S. Department of Education’s own Office of Inspector General.

What about the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights?  In the recent 2017 budget agreement for the next six months, Congress had increased funding for the Office for Civil Rights. Next year’s proposal cuts funding back to what it was for the first half of 2017.  The Post‘s reporters explain: “The spending proposal would result in the loss of more than 40 of roughly 570 positions.”

The Post‘s reporters list K-12 programs slated for elimination in the U.S. Department of Education including the $1.2 billion, 21st Century Learning After-School Program that currently serves 1.6 million low income children and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class size reduction along with smaller stand-alone programs: “a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.”  Other long-standing federal budget allocations would be reduced—for career and technical education, adult basic literacy instruction, and Promise Neighborhoods.  Further, “The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction.”

While some of these programs may seem insignificant compared to the bigger IDEA and Title I budget lines, it is essential to remember that public schools must serve children with more needs than even well funded districts can accommodate. School administrators routinely and skillfully stitch together dollars from many smaller federal and state funding lines to create programming for a wide range of students. The loss of federal dollars to reduce class size, for example, will ripple through an entire school district and affect other programming—perhaps the case load for school counselors or the presence of librarians or school nurses—that school administrators might consider less urgent in order to keep classes small.

The Post‘s reporters remind us that when Trump’s “skinny budget” was released in March, Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, commented that while the president may suggest a budget, “under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills.”  Keep in mind that in 2015, when Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Alexander was a strong proponent of Title I Portability, but Congress did not enact such a plan.

On Wednesday in Education Week, Ujifusa asked Rep. Jared Polis, the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee for K-12 education, for his views on Title I Portability: “Polis… slammed the budget proposal in general, saying that the proposal to make some Title I money portable ‘undermines the intent of Title I’ by shifting money away from schools with high-levels of poverty to wealthier schools. And he said it would damage prospects for low-income students and their families.”

The budget draft leaked to the Washington Post on Wednesday also includes significant reductions for programs in higher education.  This blog will explore some of the implications for college loan programs, work study, and higher education in upcoming weeks. For information on the meaning of the budget proposal for higher education, please consult: the Washington Post‘s primary article, Trump’s First Full Education Budget; a second explanation for the Post by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Trump and DeVos Plan to Reshape Higher Education Finance; and a third piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Trump’s Budget Could Eliminate Public-Service Loan Forgiveness.