The Trump administration released its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The "America First" budget proposes a $1.4 billion spending increase on school choice initiatives in 2018, with the goal of “ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion.” This heavy investment in school choice would fulfill one of Trump’s most repeated campaign pledges.
The budget also includes a $1 billion increase for Title I grants that are intended for low-income students. However, according to Education Week, this additional funding comes with strings attached that would ultimately serve to bolster the administration’s school choice initiative. Districts that accept these Title I dollars would be encouraged to “adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables Federal, State, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”
Trump's budget also calls for a 13 percent reduction in the Education Department’s budget, slashing $9 billion out of its current budget. The two biggest causalities from these massive cuts are the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs.
The former program provides funding to local and state educational agencies for teacher recruitment efforts and professional development training, with the aim of improving academic quality. The latter program offers wraparound before- and after-school enrichment opportunities for students in economically distressed communities.
Cutting both programs would reportedly result in savings of nearly $3.5 billion. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says that the administration targeted these programs for elimination because there was inconclusive or insufficient evidence of their effectiveness.
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney at a press conference Thursday doubled down on his office’s claim, asserting that after-school programs, like the 21st CCLC program, fail to meet their principal objective of educating children. “They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? Guess what? There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, they're helping kids do better in school,” he told reporters. However, several studies show that these school programs do have positive effects on children’s academic achievement, behavioral development, and long-term health outcomes.
The budget of course is subject to congressional approval, so it's highly likely that it will undergo significant alterations. As Carolyn Phenicie of The 74 notes, bipartisan support may exist for funding increases for charter schools; however, the extensive cuts to grant programs and the substantial spending on school choice programs will likely be partisan sticking points.
Richard Conklin, Education World Editor