The $4.8 trillion budget plan put forward on Monday instead cuts billions of dollars from the student loan program without pitching any significant new initiatives.
The president’s biggest education push is at the K-12 level. He is asking for a $5 billion tax break to support private school tuition and other educational expenses, an idea that may appeal to conservatives who want to give parents more school choices.
The proposal was included in last year’s budget but failed to pass Congress with Democrats opposed. If adopted, the tax break would represent a significant shift of federal tax money to private education.
Overall, the Trump budget would cut the Education Department’s discretionary spending by 7.8 percent, reducing and consolidating programs across the agency. Funding for 29 education programs, including more than $24 billion in spending, would be replaced with a single block-grant program to states totaling just over $19 billion. The new system would allow states to set their own priorities and would reduce the federal role in education, a longtime goal of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
On Monday, DeVos said the block grant would prioritize local needs, “not the pet projects of Washington politicians or bureaucrats.”
The proposal would combine funding for the Title 1 program that serves children in poor families with programs targeted to the arts, English-language learners, homeless students, magnet schools and charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.
The president has proposed deep cuts in years past, and Congress has responded by increasing the agency’s funding.
“Thankfully, President Trump’s budget request to Congress is dead on arrival, and the only bright side is that the budget will serve a reminder of the administration’s backward priorities ahead of an election year,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
The decision to eliminate dedicated funding for charter schools follows Trump’s decision in last week’s State of the Union address to spotlight a fourth-grader who attends a sought-after charter school in Philadelphia as an example of students trapped in “failing government schools.”
“The education vision put forward by this budget is chilling,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group. “President Trump has consistently said that school choice is a priority for his administration, but this budget, if enacted, would leave families in need with fewer school options.”
Worried that he had no response to expansive plans from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats he may face on the ballot next year, Trump last year demanded that aides come up with a plan.
Warren, for instance, promises to forgive $640 billion in student debt and said she would make public college tuition free. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another contender, wants to eliminate all outstanding student debt. But inside the administration, there was a battle on what to propose.
The budget unveiled Monday largely heads in the opposite direction, with no new ideas for tackling the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt.
Rather, the budget proposes steep cuts to the student loan program — nearly $5 billion next year and more than $60 billion over five years.
The reductions would eliminate popular initiatives such as a loan forgiveness program for students who take public service jobs and subsidized lending for low-income students.
Trump would allow undergraduate borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness after a shorter span of time, an idea Trump first pitched in 2016. However, the program would be less generous for graduate students, who have the highest balances and would have to repay more of their debt before qualifying for forgiveness.
The budget plan also caps the amount of money graduate students and parents of undergraduates may borrow. The Trump administration again wants to end supplemental grants for low-income students and slash more than half the budget for college work-study programs.
At the same time, the White House wants to extend Pell Grants, which aid low-income students, to people in prison who are pursuing college degrees, an experimental program started by the Obama administration.
The plan came under immediate fire from advocates who want to make college affordable for more students.
“Every Democrat running for president has expanded college opportunity as a core theory in how to grow the middle class,” said James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, an education nonprofit, who served in the Obama White House and Education Department. “President Trump clearly doesn’t believe in that strategy.”