Is Betsy DeVos’s Education Budget Targeting Your Child's Future? (Yes, It Is)

by Jessica Smock
Originally Published: 
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As the Trump administration spirals out of control, there’s at least one federal department where things are going exactly as planned.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a school voucher advocate, has never been shy about her contempt for public education and her love of educational privatization. Now she’s making good on her promises to gut public education, to downsize the role of the federal government in schools, and to expand school choice.

This week President Trump and Secretary DeVos will release next year’s devastating education budget. The budget cuts $10.6 billion from education programs that largely benefit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged (a huge 13.6% of the total budget) and reinvests $1.4 billion of those dollars into school choice programs.

About $1 billion would be reallocated from Title I money (funding granted to states toward the education of low-income children) to the new Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grant program. This money would now only be awarded to school districts that provide school choice options. The Center for American Progress has called these exact sorts of plans “Robin Hood in reverse” — driving “resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Who would be the winners?

School vouchers programs: The budget would add additional money for expanding and researching voucher programs that would allow low-income students to attend private or religious schools.

Charter schools: Charter schools would be granted $500 million, 50% more than what is currently budgeted.

Security and staff for Betsy DeVos: The budget requests another $158 million for salaries for her staff, although the overall number of Department of Education staff would be cut. Secretaries of education have previously used the department’s own security detail, but Secretary DeVos is being protected by U.S. Marshals, who bill the education department an additional $1 million per month.

Who would be the losers?

The losers include programs to benefit students from every level of the educational system, from programs to benefit early childhood centers, gifted and talented education, and student loan borrowers.

As Senator Patty Murphy, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, said, “This budget would weaken communities by eliminating funding for after-school programs, grant aid for struggling college students and teacher and principal training programs, and so much more—even Special Olympics education programs.”

Randi Weingarten, the outspoken president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted:

Student loan forgiveness programs: If you work (or hope to work) in an underpaid profession serving the public, you might be unhappy that one popular program has been targeted for elimination. The new budget will end a program called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that allows the student loans of graduates who enter public service or nonprofit professions (social work, teaching, law enforcement, medicine in rural areas) to be forgiven, if they work for 10 years for the government or a nonprofit.

After-school and summer programs: 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which serve nearly 2 million (mostly poor) students, would lose funding from the states.

Federal college work study: 670,000 college students currently get financial aid assistance through employment with the federal work study program. (I was one of them. The work study program was critical in helping me afford college.) Half of the budget would be cut.

Pell Grant recipients. The nation’s largest federal grant program (for families with incomes of less than $40,000) would not be eliminated entirely. However, its budget would be slashed by almost $4 billion. Another important federal aid program for low-income students, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (and its $732 million budget) would be eliminated.

Teacher training. Supporting Effective Instruction grants, which pay for teacher training, would be cut entirely.

Here’s a small sampling of some of the other programs that would either be eliminated entirely or severely slashed:

– Arts education

– Education programs for high-need Alaskan and Hawaiian native children

– Gifted and talented education

– Special Olympics

– Adult basic literacy instruction

– Career and technical education

– Childcare assistance programs for low-income parents who attend college

– Multiple literacy programs, such as grants to libraries and state literacy development grants.

On Wednesday, Secretary DeVos is scheduled to testify in front of the House Appropriations Committee.

As the Los Angeles Times points out, there is something politically unusual about this budget, a fact that might mean that it might never pass Congress: “Cutting aid to public schools in order to push vouchers would especially harm Trump’s voter base in the heartland. With few private schools, rural states tend to rely heavily on their public schools.”

It’s easy to get distracted by the nonstop scandals surrounding this administration right now and forget about the administration’s policy agenda, including the goal of privatizing education as much as possible. It’s not enough to cross your fingers and hope that your representative will reject this budget. Find and call your representatives and make your feelings about this budget known.

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