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Trump's budget takes a meat cleaver to public education

The 2018 budget proposal released by the White House on March 16 "takes a meat cleaver to public education" and ignores promised investments in the types of skills, training and other vital family supports that Trump rode to the White House in 2016, AFT President Randi Weingarten says.

President Donald Trump's budget plan axes $54 billion from nondefense discretionary funding; the Department of Education would take a hit of $9 billion, or 13.5 percent. Title II funding, which currently provides $2.4 billion under the Every Student Succeeds Act for professional development and class-size reduction, would be eliminated, as would the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which is a $1.2 billion investment in community schools, before- and after-school programs, and summer programs.

Higher education supports also take a hit: Trump's budget eliminates $732 billion in federal funding offered through the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program. It calls for level funding of the Pell Grant program, but raids the so-called Pell surplus, stripping $3.9 billion from those reserves, which could be used to help more low-income students.

"These are the biggest cuts to the education budget we can recall—even during times of great fiscal stress," Weingarten says. "Only someone who doesn't know what public schools do and what kids need would contemplate or countenance these kinds of cuts."

Spared from this scorched-earth proposal would be dollars for public and private school choice. Trump's plan lavishes $1.4 billion on programs in this area, ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion, with an estimated $100 billion extra when matching state and local funds are factored in. The Trump budget includes a $168 million hike for charter schools, and $250 million for a new private school choice program. The plan also boasts a $1 billion increase for Title I that is dedicated to public school portability—a "dollars follow the student" scheme that works like vouchers, one that bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress expressly rejected when the Every Student Succeeds Act was approved in 2015.

Title I portability, combined with funding for new private school vouchers, is a blueprint for disaster in American public education. The White House and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are angling for "both backdoor and 'front-door' voucher programs that further the Trump administration's ideological crusade against public education," Weingarten warns.

Education is by no means the only vital interest that gets hammered in Trump's plan. The environment, labor, agriculture and diplomacy also are huge targets for reductions. The Department of Health and Human Services would lose $15.1 billion, or 17.9 percent. The National Institutes of Health would suffer a $5.8 billion cut.

Funding would fall $2.5 billion, or 21 percent, at the Labor Department under Trump's budget. It eliminates training grants through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And it weakens federal support for job training and employment service formula grants—shifting more of the burden to states, localities and employers when it comes to expanding apprenticeships and other proven job generators.

"These cuts, if enacted, will turn into real-life effects on kids. They do what we feared would happen when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was nominated: defund public schools with the aim of destabilizing and destroying them," Weingarten says. And much of what Trump put on the table, she adds, is right out of the pro-school-choice playbook that DeVos used to cripple education across Michigan.

"When DeVos was nominated, we warned that she would use her office to wage an ideological attack against public education, and this budget is the latest confirmation of her efforts to rob the future to push failed voucher strategies." 

[AFT staff report]

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