What does the Trump administration’s proposed education budget mean — if anything? Will its planned cuts and funding realignments survive congressional scrutiny? What can school administrators, teachers and parents expect by way of federal support? To find out more, we asked Thomas Phillips, a congressional affairs specialist for Battelle, what might be next for federal education funding:
Q: The Trump administration’s proposed budget for the federal Department of Education would cut the department’s funding by $9.2 billion, or about 13.5 percent — reportedly the largest percentage cut for the department since 1982. Is it likely that this budget blueprint will survive Congress intact?
A: While the administration’s budget request could send a distressing signal to many educators and administrators, it is important to note that it is only a request.
Many in Congress have called the president’s budget request “dead on arrival” and have noted its blatant disregard for the congressional intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is entering only its first full year of implementation.
For instance, the request would eliminate the new academic enrichment grants of Title IV of ESSA, but from the appropriations bills that we have seen moving in Congress, funding for this section got an increase of $100 million from last year’s appropriation.
Q: The Trump proposal would eliminate Title II of ESSA, cutting funds for teacher training, and after-school and summer programs, yet increase funding for voucher programs in public and private schools as well as funding for charter schools. How do you think these proposed changes will fare in Congress?
A: Unfortunately, it appears that Title II might still be an area of contention in Congress. Even though there is clear support for Title IV, the appropriations bills that we have seen match the administration’s request in eliminating Title II. That said, our partners in the STEM Education Coalition continue to deliver the message that one of the best investments that can be made remains high quality teacher professional development.
Q: Do you think funding for career technical education, or money tied to the Perkins Act, will increase, or decrease, in the final budget?
A: The president’s budget request would make cuts across the board to almost all programs, including $168 million from the Perkins Career and Technical Education Grants. Because Perkins has yet to be reauthorized, it is likely that in the final budget approved by Congress, Perkins will maintain relatively stable funding when compared to last year — despite the cuts in the request.
One important note: Although there were drastic proposed cuts to the Perkins grants in the administration’s request, there was also a line of new funding for the creation of a National STEM Competition grant to the tune of $20 million. Whether Congress will include any such program in its own budget proposal or reauthorization remains to be seen.
Q: What should stakeholders watch for in the budget process?
A: Despite the passage of many appropriations bills by the House, and a flurry of Senate activity, do not expect a normal budget process. We are headed for yet another short-term continuing resolution (CR).
Because we are, once again, approaching the deadline for Congress to raise the debt ceiling, there is talk about another bipartisan budget agreement. This agreement, sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, would not only raise the debt ceiling but also attempt to relieve the caps imposed by sequestration.
Republicans hope to lift the caps on defense spending, and, to garner enough Democratic support, they will likely raise the non-defense caps as well. However, if no agreement can be reached, and the caps remain in place, it’s likely that we will go from the upcoming short-term CR to another yearlong CR.
CRs are the new budget.
Q: Do you think that, when it’s all said and done with the federal education budget, as one pundit put it: Federal aid is out, and school choice is in?
A: That would certainly be the message that the administration’s request sends. However, while many Republicans in Congress support school choice, they also recognize that elimination of federal aid comes at great cost to their constituents, and I see them striking a balance of funding for newly authorized federal programs (Title IV, Part A, of ESSA) and the administration’s school choice projects.
Q: Is there anything else stakeholders should know about the Trump administration’s federal education budget proposal and its path through Congress?
A: I’ll reiterate that the appropriations bills we have seen are largely symbolic, and, until Congress gets down to business on a new, bipartisan budget agreement, stakeholders can expect relatively stable funding by way of continuing resolutions.
Additionally, be on the lookout for an update from me in September as this process unfolds.