Trump seeks big K-12 budget shift, to chilly reviews

The White House is calling it “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”

The head of a national teachers’ union is calling it “manifestly cruel.”

The Trump administration’s budget proposal — formally unveiled Tuesday — calls for deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, and a significant shift of dollars into school choice initiatives. All told, the Education Department budget would drop from $68.2 billion to $59 billion, a 13.5 percent decrease.

In a two-page budget message to Congress Tuesday, Trump outlined his position on education in a single sentence. “We need to return decisions regarding education back to the state and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.”

Idaho lawmakers were noncommittal about the budget proposal. Union leaders and charter school advocates found themselves on the same side Tuesday, questioning the scope and the wisdom of the proposed cuts.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra

And Republican state superintendent Sherri Ybarra distanced herself from the Trump proposal. Six weeks ago, she downplayed the impact of the budget cuts and said the decisions were based on research. But Ybarra joined the chorus of critics Tuesday, and invited Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to Idaho to see the potential impacts of the budget cuts firsthand.

“I cannot and will not support a budget that reduces funding for public education,” Ybarra said.

The big decreases

Many basics about the education plan were well-known before Tuesday’s budget reveal. In mid-March, the White House issued a budget summary that spelled out his priorities.

Tuesday’s education budget document delves into greater detail:

  • The budget proposes nearly $3.6 billion in cuts in student loans — by consolidating loan repayment programs into a single plan, eliminating more than $1 billion in student loan subsidies and eliminating an $859 million student loan forgiveness program.
  • Trump looks for $2.3 billion in savings by eliminating Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, or Title II — a program that helps schools train teachers or reduce class sizes. The White House calls the program duplicative and “poorly structured” to provide a measurable increase in student performance. Idaho received about $10 million through this grant program in 2016-17, and 144 of the state’s 153 school districts and charters received a share of the money.
  • Trump looks to save $1.2 billion by eliminating 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a program that pays for before- and after-school and summer school programs. “Based on program performance data from the 2014-15 school year, more than half of program participants had no improvement in their math and English grades and nearly 60 percent of participants attended centers for fewer than 30 days,” the Education Department said in its budget briefing book. Forty-two Idaho programs participate in the 21st Century program, sharing roughly $4.9 million in 2016-17.

The big increases

At the same time, Trump proposed $1.4 billion in a host of school choice initiatives — a down payment on a $20 billion school choice initiative that Trump floated during the campaign but has not yet explained fully.

Here’s how that money breaks down:

  • The budget earmarks a proposed $1 billion increase in Title I money for school choice programs. Title I is a $14.8 billion grant program designed to provide extra funding for high-poverty schools serving some 25 million students. The $1 billion would go into grants “to make public school choice a meaningful reality” for minority students and students in poverty, according to the Education Department budget summary.
  • A $250 million private school “innovation and research” initiative.
  • A $167.5 million increase in charter school startup grants. In past years, Idaho received some $21.6 million in charter startup dollars, but has not participated in the program for several years.

National reactions

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools praised the proposed increase in charter school spending. But alliance president and CEO Nina Rees said the cuts “would have long-lasting, far-reaching negative consequences for children, families, communities, and our country as a whole.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten found nothing to like in the proposal.

“President Trump’s budget proposal is manifestly cruel to kids. It is catastrophic to the public schools our most vulnerable and at-risk students attend, while being a windfall for those who want to profit off of kids.”

A coalition of several national groups — representing school administrators and principals, among other stakeholders — took aim at the proposal to zero out the Title II teacher training program. This cut would “devastate” state and local school budgets, the groups said, “and cause student learning to suffer unnecessarily.”

Idaho reactions

To a large extent, the Idaho reactions mirrored the national reactions.

The Idaho Charter School Network praised the increase in charter schools grants, but said the overall cuts “would unnecessarily pit public charter schools against public traditional district schools.” Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, called the proposed budget cuts “reckless, tone-deaf and dangerous.”

The budget now goes to Congress — which already has balked at cutting initiatives such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Idaho’s Republican delegation adopted a wait-and-see position.

“I am aware that portions of the president’s budget call for dramatic cuts to programs affecting Idahoans and its communities,” said Sen. Mike Crapo. “As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will work with my colleagues to strike a fair balance between funding necessary programs and the need to reduce ongoing deficit spending.”

“The president’s budget proposal is merely a blueprint of his administration’s priorities,” said Sen. Jim Risch. “The House and Senate must now work together to introduce, debate, and pass a final budget plan. Throughout this process, I will continue to advocate for Idaho’s most pressing priorities.”

Rep. Mike Simpson, a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, praised the White House “for taking our nation’s fiscal crisis seriously.”

“My colleagues and I will give serious thought and discussion to the proposals that the president has put forward,” he said.

Rep. Raul Labrador’s office did not respond to a request for comment.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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