When it comes to education policy, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have no new ideas. Much like the Department of Education’s proposed budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the FY 2020 budget asks for students and teachers to pay for the administration’s misguided policy aims in the form of cuts to education programs. Though DeVos’ education agenda has never been popular, this year’s budget proposal is particularly tone deaf to the needs of students and schools. The Trump administration has been fiscally irresponsible to the extreme, granting enormous tax cuts to wealthy corporations at taxpayers’ expense and letting a costly partial government shutdown drag on. And yet, every year when the budget is released, programs that help students and families seem to come last on its list of priorities, receiving huge cuts or being targeted for elimination.
In the past year, the education landscape has changed drastically. Since West Virginia teachers walked out of their classrooms in February 2018, teachers in more than half a dozen states—including many deep-red states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016—have followed suit, protesting low salaries, poor working conditions, and chronic underfunding of education from their state capitals. Reporters have called teacher strikes and walkouts the “most sustained American protest movement in decades.” Yet the message that a decade of disinvestment in education has damaged, and continues to damage, the U.S. education system for millions of children has failed to reach the ears of Trump and DeVos. Instead of acknowledging the reality of chronic disinvestment in education, the Trump administration continues to propose cuts to education funding. This year’s budget proposal would eliminate 29 programs and includes cuts totaling $8.5 billion, a 12 percent decrease from the Education Department’s spending levels in fiscal year 2019. Moreover, the administration has again proposed to eliminate the $2.1 billion Title II, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants), the program most directly supporting teacher salaries and professional development—cuts that could pay nearly 35,000 teachers’ salaries across the country.
The table below illustrates the impact of Trump and DeVos’ proposed cuts to the Title II, Part A program for teachers, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program, and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
The administration also included yet another scheme to introduce private school vouchers into the federal budget. The proposal would allow $5 billion in federal tax credits for donations to organizations that provide voucher-like scholarships to private schools. This proposal, which was deemed “dead on arrival” by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), would give away billions in tax cuts to corporations and wealthy Americans, even as Trump’s budget request includes “draconian” cuts to agencies’ budgets.
The administration claims that these cuts are necessary because the United States cannot afford to continue its current level of spending on nondefense discretionary budget line items. Yet this administration has a history of fiscal recklessness and waste. From 2017 tax cuts that doled out billions to the already rich to a shutdown that lasted more than a month to Trump’s insistence that $5 billion be spent on a border wall, the president has found ways to spend billions at every juncture. However, when it comes to smaller, less expensive, and more efficient programs on which American children and families rely—such as the after-school program ($1.2 billion) and program supporting safe and healthy schools and a well-rounded education ($1.2 billion) —Trump and DeVos suddenly claim that cuts are necessary.
Budgets are statements of priorities. With this latest budget proposal, Trump and DeVos once again demonstrate that supporting students and schools is not important to them.
Neil Campbell is the director of innovation for K-12 Education at the Center for American Progress. Lisette Partelow is the senior director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Center.