• Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2020 •
In February 2020, President Donald Trump released a proposed federal budget for the 2021 fiscal year. The proposed budget, which is subject to congressional approval and adoption, reduces funding for the U.S. Department of Education by about $5.6 billion. Total federal spending on elementary, secondary and post-secondary programs would decrease by 7.8% to $66.6 billion.
Much of the federal money for education is allocated through formulae based on population counts. It is critical that population surveys, including the 2020 Census, count people accurately. If state and federal governments do not know the number of students and families who live in a particular school district and the needs of the people in that community, they cannot apportion funds or implement effective programming.
Accuracy is particularly important when policymakers are keen to cut funding and adopt strategies that decentralize important spending decisions. President Trump’s proposed budget does both through significant changes to many educational funding programs.
Consolidation of Federal K-12 Funding Programs
The proposed budget would have a significant negative impact on the K-12 federal funding structure, both in terms of the amount of money spent on elementary and secondary education and the way states use those funds.
Much of the funding cuts come from proposed changes in Title I funding. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act allocates funds to states to supplement programs for students from low-income families and school districts with concentrations of students from low-income families. The funds address gaps in resources that impact schools’ abilities to serve students equitably.
We must increase federal funding for schools, target monies appropriately, and use federal tools to urge states to invest in schools. This is a critical part of ensuring excellent and equitable schools for all students.
President Trump’s proposed budget combines the Title I funding program with 28 other federal K-12 education grant programs into a single block grant called the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant (ESED). In its description of ESED, the Department of Education cited the need to “empower states and districts to decide how to best use federal funds,” “reduce the federal role in state and local education systems,” and reduce federal staffing and administrative costs.
ESED would cut K-12 education spending through the 29 impacted programs by $4.7 billion. By combining these programs into one large formula grant, significant funding allocation power would shift to states.
In addition to Title I funds, consolidation of grant programs would impact funding that supports students experiencing homelessness, family engagement centers, and English language acquisition programs, among others. The reduced funding would no longer be targeted to these specific programs through the current programs’ specific formulae or competitive distribution methods. Allocations to states and school districts would be based on Title I formulae.
Proponents of program consolidation argue that allowing states and school districts to issue funding will ensure the most efficient use of funds. They claim differences in student performance as a result of changing resources will be identified and addressed through existing reporting and accountability systems. But accountability systems often do not accurately capture important measures of student success, school and student needs, and district health. They are not the best method for making funding decisions and evaluating programmatic success.
And there are real concerns with combining and eliminating targeted programs and the associated rules governing the distribution of funds. These changes could threaten the specific and intentional dedication of funds to the programs and student populations who need them most.
Expanding Diversion of Public Education Funds
President Trump’s proposed budget emphasizes “school choice” by expanding access and funding for vouchers and similar programs. The budget includes specific funding to expand Education Freedom Scholarships with a $5 billion annual program that would give tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate money to private scholarship funds. Some of those funds use the money to provide “scholarships” for students to attend private schools, including religious institutions.
The tax credit program would essentially function as an indirect voucher system, using public funds to provide a tax benefit to those who support private schools.
Proposals for Other Key Programs
The Trump administration’s budget keeps funding for the national network of education equity centers, which includes the IDRA EAC-South. The U.S. Department of Education funds the centers under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They provide assistance in the areas of race, gender, national origin, and religion to public school districts to promote equal educational opportunities.
However, the administration’s budget proposes changes to several other key programs that impact students and their families. It would end subsidized federal student loans for post-secondary education and eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides loan forgiveness for people, like teachers, who engage in important public service work for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, the proposed budget increases funding by $900 million for vocational programs in high schools that funnel students away from college and into the workforce.
The proposal also reduces the Federal Work-Study Program, cuts funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), eliminates the National Endowment for the Humanities, and eliminates Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which provide need-based grant aid to students for post-secondary education.
The proposed dismantling of critical federal programs could threaten access to resources for the schools and students that need them most. The proposed cuts in education funding would be disastrous for the economy that relies on having top-quality schooling for all students. We must increase federal funding for schools, target monies appropriately, and use federal tools to urge states to invest in schools. This is a critical part of ensuring excellent and equitable schools for all students.
Office of Management and Budget. (2020). A Budget for America’s Future – President’s Budget FY 2021. Washington, D.C.: OMB.
U.S. Department of Education. (2020). Detailed Budget Estimates by Agency – Department of Education. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Office of Management and Budget. (2020). A Budget for America’s Future – Major Savings and Reforms. Washington, D.C.: Office of Management and Budget.
Snyder, T.D., Dinkes, R., Sonnenberg, W., & Cornman, S. (May 2019). Study of the Title I, Part A Grant Program Mathematical Formulas. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics.
U.S. Department of Education. (September 2019). How Education Freedom Scholarships Can Expand Private and Home Education Options: Fact Sheet. Washington, D.C.: Department of Education.
Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2020, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2020 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]