Trump’s K-12 Education Budget

Cuts for Public Schools, Billions for Private School Vouchers

Children at an elementary school in Pacoima, California, walk across the schoolyard, February 2019.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have proposed substantial cuts to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. If Congress enacts their proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021, it would reduce the department’s total funding by $5.6 billion—a cut of nearly 8 percent from last year’s funding level—while dedicating $5 billion in tax credits to the administration’s private school voucher scheme.

While previous budget proposals sought to cut some programs and reduce funding for K-12 education, this year’s scheme goes even further, sweeping nearly every program authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into a block grant program. The block grant would replace 29 programs while cutting $4.7 billion, or nearly 20 percent, of the funding those formula-based and competitively awarded programs received in fiscal year 2020. The formula-based programs alone represent more than $3 billion in cuts. While those funds could be used for a number of purposes, the authors estimate that the cuts could support the salaries of more than 50,000 teachers nationwide. (see Table 1)

This block grant funding would be allocated through formulas currently used in the Title I program that are driven in large part by the number of children from families with low incomes in a given community. While the funding cut would strain public schools across the country, its impacts would be amplified in certain areas, as many programs eliminated in favor of the block grant serve students who are likely to live in particular states, regions, and communities.

Programs supporting the education of English-language learners, children experiencing homelessness, rural communities, migrant students, students in foster care or juvenile justice systems, Native Hawaiian students, and Alaska Native students would all be eliminated in this scheme. Communities with large concentrations of students who rely on those programs would likely see funding cuts even larger than the 20 percent overall reduction from the block grant. This lack of dedicated federal funding as well as existing program requirements could put services for those vulnerable students at risk. For example, the program for students experiencing homelessness requires school districts to pay costs for services such as transportation so these students can remain in the stability of their current school. Those kinds of protections could disappear without dedicated federal funding and with existing program requirements.

The block grant proposal would also eliminate programs whose funding does not necessarily flow directly to school districts by formula. This includes a total of $2.4 billion for the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, Supporting Effective Educator Development Grant, and Teacher and School Leader Incentive programs, which provide funding to recruit, prepare, develop, and compensate teachers. Disinvesting in these programs means disinvesting in teachers at a time when the profession critically needs the support. The United States is already seeing protests over low teacher salaries, and this unrest may be behind recent declines in young people interested in becoming teachers and students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. As many states are trying to not only grow the teaching profession but also diversify it, salary cuts would be especially harmful to Black and Latinx teachers, who are more likely to graduate with student debt.

Finally, the block grant would cut funding for several competitively awarded programs, including public school choice programs for districts launching magnet programs and nonprofits starting charter schools; school safety activities and programs, such as Project Prevent grants, for communities with pervasive violence challenges to help provide access to school-based counseling services, implement conflict resolution strategies, and provide social and emotional supports; and the Education Innovation and Research program, which helps create high-quality evidence for promising programs as communities adopt them.

The latest budget makes clear yet again where the Trump administration’s priorities lie—and it’s not with the 50 million students enrolled in the nation’s public schools. Just like prior budget requests, the administration seeks to inflict billions of cuts on public schools while giving away billions in tax credits to subsidize private school vouchers.

Neil Campbell is the director of innovation for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. Abby Quirk is a research associate for K-12 Education Policy at the Center.