Trump’s budget has no common good

In addition to drastic cuts to scientific research and environmental protection proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget for 2018, we heard about drastic cuts to the federal Education Department.

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before Congress again yesterday, but this time, she didn’t mention bears or guns even once. What she did suggest is that states should decide on their own whether to allow schools that receive federal tax dollars to discriminate against students who are poor or have a recognized disability, the Washington Post reports.

Betsy DeVos's Opening Testimony

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member DeLauro and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the Administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018.

I look forward to talking about how we can work together to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students while also refocusing the Federal role in education.

OUR MISSION TO HELP STUDENTS SUCCEED

While today’s hearing is meant to focus on the numbers and mechanics of the budget, I hope we’ll all remember our goal and our purpose: how to best serve America’s students.

Allow me to share just one example:

I recently met a young man — Michael — whose story truly spoke to me. Michael grew up in East Hartford, Connecticut, in a low-income neighborhood. He was an average student throughout elementary and middle school, but that all changed when he reached the district high school.

Michael described a school where students were the real ones in charge of the class, and they would make it impossible for the teacher to teach.

He was constantly bullied, to the point he was afraid to even go to the school’s bathroom, and this constant fear made him hate school. He described the school he was assigned to as, and I quote, “nothing more than adult day care … a dangerous daycare.”

But even though he was failing his classes, the school simply passed him along from year-to-year, giving him D’s and sending the not-so-subtle message that they didn’t think Michael would amount to much.

Michael got a diploma, but not an education.

Michael followed the path he thought he was destined for, working in a low-skill, low-wage job. But with the encouragement of his wife, Michael took a course at the local community college to see what was possible for him. He found an environment that was invested in his success, and much to his surprise, Michael earned an A. He thought it was a fluke. So he took more classes, and lo and behold, he earned more A’s. He’s now in the school’s honors program with the goal of working as an emergency room nurse.

His success is America’s success. Access to a quality education is the path to the American dream.

So I ask you to keep Michael, and countless other students like him, in mind as we go about our shared work to support America’s students. No student should feel they attend a “dangerous daycare.” No child’s dreams should be limited by the quality, or lack thereof, of the education they receive.

INVESTING IN PROGRAMS THAT WORK

This budget lays out a series of proposals and priorities that work toward ensuring every student has an equal opportunity to receive a great education. It focuses on returning decision-making power and flexibility to the states, where it belongs, and giving parents more control over their child’s education.

Parents deserve that right, and frankly, that right has been denied for too long. We cannot allow any parent to feel their child is trapped in a school that isn’t meeting his or her unique needs.

The budget also reflects a series of tough choices. If taxpayer money were limitless, we wouldn’t need a budget at all. But by its very definition, a budget reflects the difficult decisions of how best to appropriate the limited taxpayer dollars we have. This budget does so by putting an emphasis on the programs that are proven to help students, while taking a hard look at programs that are well-intended but simply haven’t yielded meaningful results.

This is why the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget would reduce overall funding for Department programs by $9 billion, or 13 percent. I’ve seen the headlines, and I understand those figures may sound alarming for some; however, this budget refocuses the Department on supporting States and school districts in their efforts to provide high-quality education to all our students. At the same time, the budget simplifies funding for college, while continuing to help make a higher education more accessible to all.

FIVE PRINCIPLES GUIDING THE BUDGET REQUEST

I’d like to outline the principles that guided our decision-making.

First, our request would devote significant resources toward giving every student an equal opportunity for a great education. It emphasizes giving parents more power and students more opportunities.

Second, the Administration’s request recognizes the importance of maintaining strong support for public schools through longstanding State formula grant programs focused on meeting the educational needs of the nation’s most vulnerable students, including poor and minority students and students with disabilities.

Third, our request maintains funding for key competitive grant programs that support innovation and build evidence of what works in education. This also means strong support for the research and data collection activities of the Department.

Fourth, our request reduces the complexity of funding for college while prioritizing efforts to help make a college education accessible for low-income students. As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I look forward to working with you to address student debt and higher education costs while accelerating and improving student completion rates through such efforts as Year-Round Pell, and reducing the complexity of student financial aid.

And fifth, consistent with our commitment to improve the efficiency of the Federal government, our request would eliminate or phase-out 22 programs that are duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through State, local or philanthropic efforts. Six additional programs were already eliminated in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. All told, taxpayers will save $5.8 billion.

EMPOWERING PARENTS AND STATES, HELPING STUDENTS

In total, the President’s budget fulfills his promise to devolve power from the Federal government and place it in the hands of parents and families. It refocuses the Department on supporting States in their efforts to provide a high-quality education to all of our students.

Research shows that increasing education options can have positive effects on students generally, and an even greater impact on poor and minority students. If we truly want to provide better education to underserved communities, then we must start with giving parents and students the power to select high-quality schools that meet their needs.

I want to unleash a new era of creativity and ingenuity in the education space. My hope is that — working in concert with each of you — we can make education in America the envy of the rest of the world.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share the Administration’s vision for improving education across the country. I look forward to respond to any questions you may have.

Not only does the proposed budget fundamentally reshape college loan programs, but it also re-imagines Title I funding, which is used primarily to help schools that serve high-poverty areas meet the needs of the students who attend those schools, as well as Title II, which is used primarily to develop the skills of good teachers.

But Mr Trump and Ms DeVos have a different agenda.

And it’s giving education officials in the federal government as well as state departments of education an uneasy feeling. For example, just a few hours before Ms DeVos testified, James W Runcie, the chief operating officer of the US Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid, resigned. He sent a memo to his colleagues, citing several reasons for his departure, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Although he was expected to leave before completing his five-year term, his departure was abrupt and unexpected.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to be accountable as the Chief Operating Officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the Department,” he wrote in that email. “I want to also provide the Secretary with the ability to select a Chief Operating Officer that will be better aligned to whatever governance and management model she believes is most effective.”

Even if it’s not, actually, effective.

The belief in “school choice” is rooted in the mostly flawed and debunked premise that the needs of poor students and their families would be best served not by improving the quality of their failing public schools or providing for wraparound services but by giving those families some money to help them pay tuition at a private school that could provide these services.

But if this budget passes as is, it will come with reductions or elimination of the mandates that require schools that receive federal funds to meet the needs of the very students school choice advocates say they want to help. Our leaders don’t want these schools, which will be receiving tax dollars from all citizens, not just those with kids who attend school in a given district, to be held as accountable for the education they provide as the public schools are.

The massive absence of logic in the argument simply boggles the mind. Anyway, what Ms DeVos told Congress, on behalf of the many businesses that would like to start private schools and receive our tax dollars, is reported above, as we received her testimony from her department. But since words don’t seem to get through, perhaps a picture will help. I chose a pie chart.


Households in any given school district in America (Voxitatis)
Private school owners want the middle green money (sizes vary).

Criticism has already come in from education and child advocates everywhere:

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.