Center for American Progress

House Republican Budget Threatens Public Education and Opportunity for Young People
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House Republican Budget Threatens Public Education and Opportunity for Young People

House Republican leadership’s proposed funding bill would vastly cut support for economically disadvantaged students and eliminate important programs in the K-12 education, youth workforce development, and higher education spheres.

Empty elementary school classroom
Unused desks are seen in an empty classroom at an elementary school in Kentucky, January 2022. (Getty/Jon Cherry)

The U.S. House of Representatives will soon consider a funding bill introduced by Republican leadership that would upend federal investments in public education and workforce programs that are intended to ensure the education system serves young people from all walks of life. Since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society agenda of the 1960s—a defining effort to tackle poverty and increase opportunity—the federal government has invested in supporting the growth of the youngest minds through Head Start; providing equitable funding and highly skilled teachers to economically disadvantaged K-12 schools and their students; making higher education affordable for low-income students; and funding workforce training for youth who face barriers to employment. While there is still work to be done to achieve a truly great, more equitable society, these programs have undergirded nearly 60 years of social mobility, economic prosperity, and global competitiveness.

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The proposed education funding plan jeopardizes this progress.

This column details some of the proposed funding bill’s most significant cuts to K-12 education, youth programming, and higher education. If these cuts are enacted, they will rob a generation of the opportunity to participate in the American dream.

The bill would eliminate funding for economically disadvantaged schools and students

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the bedrock federal investment in K-12 education, and House Republicans’ proposal to cut it by $14.7 billion—nearly 80 percent—would leave low-income children and children of color with a vastly inferior public education by greatly increasing existing resource and achievement gaps.

Much of the funding for U.S. K-12 schools comes from the local level—and this produces extreme inequities by community wealth. When Congress passed the ESEA in 1965 as part of the Great Society agenda, the goal of Title I was—as it remains—to “provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

Currently, Title I supports the education of more than 26 million children, or more than one-third of U.S. students. Across the country, 3 in 4 students who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, Black, and/or Latinx attend Title I schools. The proposed funding cut would force Title I schools to lay off up to 226,000 teachers, aides, and other staff members despite widespread and ongoing teacher shortages.

House Republicans have said pandemic-era investments made through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds should be depleted before Congress approves Title I funding. Title I funds, however, are meant to support underfunded schools year in and year out, while ESSER funds were a one-time infusion to help schools combat the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to learning. In light of the pandemic’s persistent effects on students, schools were given several years to spend EESER funding in order to make the best possible use of it.

Supporters of defunding Title I have also said the funds disproportionately benefit urban schools. Although urban districts in most states do typically receive greater Title I funding per pupil than their suburban and rural counterparts, a good-faith effort to solve these disparities would direct additional funding to rural areas rather than slashing funds for all schools. House Republicans have also framed the proposed cuts as a response to the significant decrease in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, despite research showing that targeting increased funding to low-income schools improves student performance.

In another move that would deepen inequality, House Republicans have proposed a $35 million—or 25 percent—cut to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), according to CAP calculations. This would severely curtail the OCR’s ability to investigate instances of discrimination and ensure that all students have equal access to education. In fiscal year 2022 alone, the office resolved 16,515 cases of potential civil rights violations, protecting students across the country from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and language ability.

The bill would eliminate funding for teacher and principal supports

Schools are nothing without teachers and principals who can offer the level of expertise and professionalism—not to mention sheer manpower—that it takes to nurture young minds. Investing in the ongoing development of educators is vital to increasing students’ academic achievement and preparing them for the future.

The proposed funding bill would eliminate funding for Title II-A of the ESEA, which provides funding for preparing, training, and recruiting high-quality teachers, principals, and other school leaders through Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants. States and districts use these grants to provide professional development for educators, recruit and retain effective teachers and principals, reduce class sizes, and provide support for new teachers. One of the primary purposes of these funds is to give low-income students and students of color greater access to effective educators. To achieve this, states and districts use the funds to provide educators professional development specific to serving low-income students and students of color, to examine the equitable distribution of educators, and to implement strategies to improve within-district teacher equity.

In 2023, all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, were awarded a total of $2.19 billion in these grants, which helped fund programs including school leader mentoring and coaching models in Ohio, professional development to support students with disabilities in North Carolina, and partnerships to improve teacher preparation and increase the number of educators in Nevada.

Eliminating funding for Title II-A grants would mean eliminating many of these programs and could lead to hiring freezes, further exacerbate the teacher shortage, and ultimately stall academic recovery.

Since 1965, states have relied upon federal teacher development grants to increase student achievement. Ending them would be particularly devastating at a moment when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated preexisting teacher workforce shortages. As of August 2023, estimates point to at least 55,000 teacher vacancies across the country, a 51 percent increase from last year. As levels of stress and burnout among teachers rise, teachers report feeling underpaid, overworked, and without adequate support. Furthermore, due to high turnover rates, more new teachers and principals are entering schools and in need of training.

Professional development not only benefits new teachers but also provides opportunities for veteran teachers to learn new technologies, curricula, and teaching methods and continue to hone their skills. The opportunities provided under Title II-A have been shown to increase teacher retention and better prepare teachers for the classroom, as well as enhance the recruitment of new teachers and principals.

The bill would eliminate funding for English learners

House Republicans also are proposing to eliminate a program aimed at the more than 5 million English learners who make up 10 percent of the total K-12 student population. Title III of the ESEA, also referred to as English Language Acquisition, seeks to ensure that English learners attain English proficiency and reach high levels of academic achievement. It does this by assisting teachers, principals, and other school leaders in providing effective programs for these students and promoting parental, family, and community participation in language instruction educational programs. With Title III funding, districts are able to provide English learners with the resources necessary to meet the state academic standards all students are expected to meet—something that is much more of a challenge for students still mastering English.

Districts that receive Title III subgrants use the funds to implement activities that are rooted in evidence-based research. These may include hiring staff licensed to teach English learners, providing professional development for educators who work with them, and supporting the development and implementation of language instruction educational programs. These programs enable schools to partner with and provide resources to help parents and guardians become active participants in students’ education. Resources include English courses for family members, family literacy programs, support groups, and general resources for navigating life in the United States.

Ending the federal allocation of $890 million would cause many of these efforts to disappear. Furthermore, the number of English learners in the United States is on the rise. While graduation rates for this population have increased in recent years, they still lag behind the national average. These students also are less likely to attend or complete college than their English-proficient peers, showing a possible need for further investment. 

The bill would eliminate funding for youth workforce development

House Republicans are also proposing to eliminate the federal allocation of more than $948 million for the youth program in Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Although the WIOA was first enacted in July 2014, its youth funding provisions have roots in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973. The WIOA youth program serves young people ages 16 to 24 who face barriers to employment, including English learners, youth from low-income backgrounds or foster care, young people experiencing homelessness, and more.

Over the 2021–2022 program year, about 125,000 young people across the country participated in the program. Some attended tutoring programs or skills training, while others participated in pre-apprenticeship or internship programs or received comprehensive counseling to prepare them for higher education and the workforce. If federal funding were eliminated, all these local programs would be at risk of closure. Communities would suffer as a result: Evidence shows that youth employment programs provide critical skills, improve lifetime earnings, and reduce interactions with the legal system.

The impacts of these cuts would fall squarely on the nation’s most disadvantaged youth. In the 2021–2022 program year, 85 percent of participants in the WIOA youth program were from low-income families, while 62 percent were English learners or faced cultural barriers to employment. More than 54 percent identified as individuals of color. About 1 in 5 participants had a disability.

The funding bill also proposes eliminating Job Corps, a $1.76 billion residential program that provides free education and job training, separate from the WIOA youth program, to tens of thousands of youth facing employment barriers. Job Corps dates back to the Great Society agenda and has served more than 2 million individuals since its inception. The program helps combat youth homelessness by offering students free room and board for up to three years. While the program has substantial room for improvement, particularly around ongoing safety and security concerns, it remains critical to helping disadvantaged youth join the workforce and establish a career.

The bill would cut need-based financial aid programs for college students

Similarly, the House budget proposal would deepen the crisis of college unaffordability. Appropriators seek to eliminate the $1.23 billion Federal Work-Study Program, which in 2022 subsidized on- and off-campus jobs for more than 600,000 students. While the program could do a significantly better job targeting Work-Study jobs to students’ career goals, the jobs it offers are nevertheless much more likely to be clerical, managerial, or professional than are the jobs, frequently in the service sector, that students otherwise use to support themselves. This helps boost students’ post-college opportunities. Students must demonstrate financial need in order to participate in the Work-Study program. Evidence suggests that students who do participate see improved graduation rates and career outcomes.

Also facing the threat of elimination is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program, which provides $910 million per year to support grants for 1.7 million students. Priority is given to students with the lowest expected family contributions, and 80 percent of recipients either come from families earning below $30,000 per year or are independent and more likely to be low income.

Both of these forms of need-based aid would benefit from updated formulas to better target students attending broad-access institutions. In contrast, eliminating them would add to the already substantial barriers college students must overcome to reach graduation. Some students likely would be pushed off the path to graduation altogether, while others would be forced to borrow more in student loans—adding to the student debt crisis of $1.6 trillion. Both these things would make it more difficult for young people to pursue their dreams, such as launching new businesses and starting families.

The House Republican budget also proposes cutting funding for student aid administration by 13 percent—or nearly $265 million. Student aid administration is a critical government service that manages student loan repayment and $111.6 billion in federal student aid. This will hinder the efforts of the Department of Education to implement a simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); to improve the inadequate loan servicing system that too often impedes borrowers’ abilities to pay off their loans; and to weed out waste, fraud, and abuse of student aid dollars.

Conclusion

Federal programs that support K-12 students, underserved youth, and college affordability deserve updates and improvements in some cases, as well as greater investment across the board. Congress must reject the House Republican budget in order to ensure that America’s future remains bright.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Allie Pearce

Former Policy Analyst

Tania Otero Martinez

Policy Analyst, K-12 Education Policy

Team

K-12 Education Policy

The K-12 Education Policy team is committed to developing policies for a new education agenda rooted in principles of opportunity for all and equity in access.

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