President Donald Trump’s budget proposal—which includes slashing the Department of Education’s budget by 13.5 percent and allocating $1.4 billion for school choice initiatives—was released last week.
Trump’s proposed $9.2 million in cuts would eliminate, for example, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds after-school programs for students from low-income families. Also on the chopping block: Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which supports teacher training, recruitment and retention. That loss could dramatically impact states such as California, which is experiencing severe teacher shortages.
As we know, Congress actually crafts the federal budget, and many Democrats and Republicansagree that Trump’s “wish list” of proposals will not survive intact. But examine the ideology underlying Trump’s education blueprint (which is supported by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos), and it becomes clear that there is still cause for concern.
Namely, Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” is designed to starve public education while stuffing the privatization movement with resources, all under the guise of civil rights.
Trump has proposed a $168 million increase for charter schools (which presently receive over $300 annually) and $1 billion to promote and increase school choice in Title I schools. Another $250 million would go to a new “private school choice program,” but details about its structure or reach haven’t been released yet.
DeVos lauded Trump’s proposed budget increases, saying they would protect the “nation’s most vulnerable populations” by providing “an equal opportunity of a quality education for all students.” Trump quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s reference to “inferior education” at the end of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March as a reason to provide more school choice, and has said that, ideally, the federal budget would eventually invest $20 billion annually in school choice programs.
Allocating taxpayer money to subsidize private and religious schools, while failing to provide the same robust support for public schools, will result in the exact opposite of equitable education. It will fail to serve students of color, those who come from low-income families or live in rural America.
These concerns are being raised within Congress. On March 22, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington issued a 20-page memo detailing concerns about school privatization efforts. She writes:
While supporters try to argue the programs proposed in President Trump's budget increase ‘school choice,’ in reality, privatization presents a false choice for parents, students, and communities. … [T]he reality is that private schools receiving taxpayer funds lack accountability and transparency, can deny students and parents basic rights, and are inaccessible to students in rural areas and students who cannot afford to pay the difference in cost between the voucher and private school tuition.
School choice is not the only example of the Trump administration ignoring education data. His budget proposal reduces or eliminates a total of 20 Department of Education programs that were deemed “not effective … or that do not serve national needs.”