The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, a dramatic downsizing that would reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to low-income and first-generation college students.
Along with the cuts, among the steepest the agency has ever sustained, the administration is also proposing to shift $1.4 billion toward one of President Trump’s key priorities: Expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. His $59 billion education budget for 2018 would include an unprecedented federal investment in such “school choice” initiatives, signaling a push to reshape K-12 education in America.
The president is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — 50 percent above the current level — and a new $250 million private-school choice program, which would probably provide vouchers for families to use at private or parochial schools. Vouchers are one of the most polarizing issues in education, drawing fierce resistance from Democrats and some Republicans, particularly those in rural states.
Trump also wants an additional $1 billion for Title I, a $15 billion grant program for schools with high concentrations of poor children. The new funds would be used to encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.
That policy, known as “portability,” was rejected in the Republican-led Senate during deliberations over the main K-12 education law in 2015. Many Democrats see portability as the first step toward federal vouchers for private schools and argue that it would siphon dollars from schools with high poverty and profound needs to those in more affluent neighborhoods.
The slim budget summary released Thursday frames the new spending as the first step toward meeting Trump’s campaign pledge to invest $20 billion in school-choice initiatives. The document makes no mention of another policy Trump is expected to promote through a tax bill: a new tax credit for donations to private-school scholarships.
The budget summary also is silent on the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which many in the civil rights community fear will be targeted for deep cuts.
A host of programs aimed at low-income students are slated for cuts. Federal work-study funds that help students work their way through college would be reduced “significantly.” The proposal also calls for nearly $200 million in cuts to federal TRIO and Gear Up programs, which help disadvantaged students in middle and high schools prepare for college.
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a $732 million program that provided aid to 1.6 million students in the 2014-15 academic year, is also on the chopping block.
Rather than pour those savings into Pell Grants — which the document describes as a better way to deliver need-based aid — the budget maintains the current funding level for Pell grants and calls for the “cancellation” of $3.9 billion in Pell reserves, money that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had hoped would be used to help students take summer classes.
The department would also eliminate $2.4 billion in grants to states for preparing and training teachers and school leaders, along with $1.2 billion in funding for after-school and summer enrichment programs.
In addition, it would shrink or kill 20 programs the administration deemed duplicative or outside the scope of the agency. They include $43 million in grants to colleges for teacher preparation and $66 million in “impact aid” to offset tax revenue losses that communities face when they have federal property within their bounds. .
There would be no significant change to one of the department’s largest outlays, a $13 billion program that provides money to educate students with disabilities. Advocates and some key lawmakers have long sought to increase that aid. Congress has promised for decades to give states 40 percent of the cost of special education, but has never come close to paying that much.