Donald Trump, then president-elect, stands with Betsy DeVos after a meeting in November 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.
President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly said they want to shrink the federal role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children’s schools.
The documents — described by an Education Department employee as a near-final version of the budget expected to be released next week — offer the clearest picture yet of how the administration intends to accomplish that goal.
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.
The proposed cuts in long-standing programs — and the simultaneous new investment in alternatives to traditional public schools — are a sign of the Trump administration’s belief that federal efforts to improve education have failed. DeVos, who has previously derided government, is now leading an agency she views as an impediment to progress.
“It’s time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government’s arcane approach to education,” DeVos said this month in Salt Lake City. “Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts.”
The proposed budget would also reshape financial aid programs that help 12 million students pay for college.
A White House official said Wednesday it would be premature to comment on any aspect of “ever-changing internal discussion” about the president’s budget before its publication. “The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” the official said.
Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, emphasized that all figures are preliminary until officially released next week. Hill said that the proposed budget protects special-education funding, ensures careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars and demonstrates the administration’s “strong commitment to ensuring the Department of Education provides more educational options for low-income students.”
The budget proposal calls for a net $9.2 billion cut to the department, or 13.6 percent of the spending level Congress approved last month. It is likely to meet resistance on Capitol Hill because of strong constituencies seeking to protect current funding, ideological opposition to vouchers and fierce criticism of DeVos, a longtime Republican donor who became a household name during a bruising Senate confirmation battle.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, referred to Alexander’s response in March to the release of Trump’s budget outline. That statement emphasized that while the president may suggest a budget, “under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills.”
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.
The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.
The documents obtained by The Post — dated May 23, the day the president’s budget is expected to be released — outline the rest of the cuts, including a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; 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 programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).
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. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.
The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.
There is currently only one federally funded voucher program, in the District of Columbia. A recent Education Department analysis of that program found that after a year in private school, voucher recipients performed worse on standardized tests than their counterparts who remained in public school.
The administration would devote $1 billion in Title I dollars meant for poor children to a new grant program (called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS) for school districts that agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend — and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.
The goal is to do away with neighborhood attendance zones that the administration says trap needy kids in struggling schools. The documents cite Minneapolis (where parents can choose which city school their children attend) and Hartford, Conn. (where students can cross city-suburban lines to attend school) as examples.
But the notion of allowing Title I dollars to follow the student — known as “portability” — is a controversial idea that the Republican-led Senate rejected in 2015. Many Democrats argue that it is a first step toward private-school vouchers and would siphon dollars from schools with high poverty to those in more affluent neighborhoods.
Leaders of historically black colleges and universities had sought an increase in federal funding for their institutions. The administration’s budget proposal would hold funding flat compared to spending levels over the first half of fiscal 2017.
The administration is also seeking to overhaul key elements of federal financial aid. The spending proposal would maintain funding for Pell Grants for students in financial need, but it would eliminate more than $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students; nearly halve the work-study program that helps students work their way through school, cutting $490 million; take a first step toward ending subsidized loans, for which the government pays interest while the borrower is in school; and end loan forgiveness for public servants.
The loan forgiveness program, enacted in 2007, was designed to encourage college graduates to pursue careers as social workers, teachers, public defenders or doctors in rural areas. There are at least 552,931 people on track to receive the benefit, with the first wave of forgiveness set for October. It’s unclear how the proposed elimination would affect those borrowers.
The administration also wants to replace five income-driven student loan repayment plans with a single plan.
That change would likely benefit many undergraduate borrowers, who currently can have the balance of their loan forgiven after paying 10 percent of their income for 20 years. Trump’s proposal — which makes good on a campaign promise — would raise the maximum payment to 12.5 percent of income, but shorten the payment period to 15 years.
The proposal is less sweet for borrowers who take out loans to earn advanced degrees. They currently pay monthly bills capped at 10 percent of income for 25 years. Under the new plan, they’d pay more (12.5 percent of income) for longer (30 years).
There were no estimates on how much the government would save by eliminating public-service loan forgiveness, overhauling the income-based repayment plans and ending subsidized loans.
The spending plan supports year-round Pell Grants, which allow low-income students to use the money for three semesters of college, instead of two. That way, students can take a full load of courses year-round and earn a degree faster. The administration also would increase available funds for year-round Pell by $16.3 billion over 10 years.
Still, the maximum annual award would remain flat at $5,920. And without any directive to index the award to inflation, that ceiling might remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Trump is seeking an additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department, up 7 percent, money that according to the budget documents would go toward loan-servicing costs, improved information-technology security, auditing and investigations and additional security costs for the secretary. DeVos has contracted with the U.S. Marshals Service to provide security rather than using the in-house security team that guarded previous secretaries.
Despite that increase, the agency workforce would decline by about 150 positions, or 4 percent.
The staffing decline at the department’s Office for Civil Rights — which is dealing with a large increase in discrimination complaints — would be steeper.
Trump is seeking $106.8 million for the civil rights office, unchanged from the funding level over the first half of fiscal 2017. But — thanks to a recent bump from Congress — the proposed total is $1.7 million less than the office is now receiving. The spending proposal would result in the loss of more than 40 of roughly 570 positions.[“source-smallbiztrends”]