The Donald Trump administration took steps to shift policy in the Department of Education this month — proposing a $9 billion cut in federal spending and increasing state autonomy over education standards.
The March budget proposal expands defense and homeland security spending while cutting $18 billion from other federal agencies.
Meanwhile, the White House proposed a $1.4 billion increase in funding school choice programs, including an additional $168 million increase for charter schools. The budget also calls for a $1 billion increase to Title I, which provides additional assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers of low-income K-12 students.
Gerard Robinson, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, said Trump’s budget is ultimately in line with his campaign promises to his supporters.
“He committed himself to parental choice, so to see that big of an increase for school choice programs, that’s a commitment to his constituency,” he said.
Despite the boost for school choice in the K-12 system, higher education affordability took a hit. Trump's budget proposes cuts to federal work study and Pell Grant funds — as well as the complete elimination of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.
“With any budget you have winners and losers, and this is going to surely impact some students who are low-income,” Robinson said. “But while all students who are poor in higher ed won’t get everything they want, they all won’t have everything taken away from them, that just won’t happen.”
But Rep. David Price, D-N.C. said the president's budget ignores his campaign tenet to provide economic mobility.
“This isn’t a skinny budget; it’s a starvation budget,” he said. “…These radical cuts would make it impossible to make the investments in our future that a great country must make.”
Changing education standards
The Department of Education — led by Secretary Betsy DeVos — released a new template of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015 and set up federal accountability measures for states.
The revised template removes several of these measures to allow greater state flexibility, DeVos said in a statement.
“My philosophy is simple: I trust parents, I trust teachers, and I trust local school leaders to do what's right for the children they serve,” she said.
Stephen Parker, legislative director for the National Governors Association, said the ESSA template under former President Barack Obama required state education agencies to receive input from stakeholders — such as teachers, parents and staff — when designing state plans.
“From the time that ESSA kicked off, the goal of governors has been to be a convener of voices,” Parker said. “Since that evidence of stakeholder engagement is no longer a required piece of the state plan, that creates an issue for governors because they have to ensure that every voice responsible for the education system is heard.”
Matt Ellinwood, director of the Education and Law Project at the North Carolina Justice Center, said ESSA’s original template also addressed bipartisan concerns about an overemphasis on standardized testing in schools.
“ESSA was exciting in that it required states to include other measures of academic success besides what we can see on tests,” he said. “But now there’s less pressure to do that and we’ve lost some of what (ESSA) was really about.”
Impact on North Carolina
Stakeholder engagement is still a priority in North Carolina, Ellinwood said.
“The Department of Public Instruction has done a good job of soliciting input from all types of stakeholder groups throughout this process in North Carolina, and I don’t think that’s going to stop,” he said. “But there are certainly some states where you are free now to move forward without having the kind of input we’ve looked for here.”
Still, Trump’s budget proposal could shift financial burdens for things like professional development onto state and district budgets, Ellinwood said. He said the state budget for professional development was already eliminated, and Trump's federal budget would also eliminate funding for those programs.
"Local districts will have to pick up the cost of doing that, because its not something you can really stop," he said.
Trump's budget proposal comes just a few weeks after N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper released details on his budget plan to give all North Carolina public school teachers a pay raise.
"It's time to put our money where our trust is and pay teachers like the professionals they are," Cooper said in a press release.
But Ellinwood said the proposed federal cuts to education spending will likely hurt those who work in schools the most.
“The majority of education spending is on people: it’s on teachers, principals and other structural support personnel,” he said. “So whenever we talk about cutting the education system, you’re not really talking about cutting things like classroom supply — you’re talking about losing teachers and other personnel.”
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