Trump’s Budget for Fiscal 2018: Cuts for Ed., Implications for K-12 Business

Managing Editor

As was expected, President Trump’s newly unveiled budget for fiscal 2018 calls for deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, reductions that would carry potentially big implications for companies doing business in schools.

Trump’s vision for upending the federal agency, released Tuesday, came as no surprise because he released a bare-bones document–known as a “skinny budget“–outlining his administration’s goals a few months ago.

The big picture is that Trump’s plan would cut $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, from the Department of Education’s current $68 billion budget for fiscal 2017.  Line by line details are here. As my colleague Andrew Ujifusa points out, that’s the largest single-year percentage cut that a president has sought to make to the agency’s discretionary budget since President Ronald Reagan sought a 35.7 percent reduction for the department in fiscal 1983.

“[F]or too long our education system has tolerated an unacceptable achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their more privileged peers,” the Trump administration said in its budget document. “It is clear that top-down, Washington-directed education reform has not worked.”

Administration officials note that discretionary spending at the Department of Education has risen from $17 billion to $68 billion between fiscal year 1989 and today. The results for K-12 schools, they contend, have not justified the outlay of funding.

Gauging the exact impact of the proposed budget on school districts, and on vendors working with them, is difficult for a bunch of reasons.

The first is that the budget is nowhere near final: Congress will ultimately shape the spending plan, and if the fiscal 2017 spending agreement is any indication, lawmakers have much more allegiance to federal education programs than Trump does.

Another complication is that many state and district officials say there is a trickle-down effect to the loss of potential federal funding. If money from Washington goes away,  states and districts are forced to adjust. Their responses would likely vary, but could include making cuts on their own, or moving money around.

The ed-tech community was intensely interested in what Trump’s administration would propose for block grants under Title IV. The potentially significant source of ed-tech funding was originally authorized to receive $1.6 billion in the Every Student Succeeds Act. But the news for ed-tech advocates was not good: Congress funded the program at $400 million in fiscal 2017, and Trump’s budget would zero the Title IV grants out in fiscal 2018.

“It’s deeply disappointing, given the bipartisan agreement there was under ESSA for the program,” said Keith Krueger, the executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, in an interview. The previous amount “was insufficient, but at least it was something.”

Under the Title IV program, districts can devote up to 60 percent of the grant money to ed tech, but they don’t have to do so. At least 20 percent of the district block grants must support efforts to promote a well-rounded education, and 20 percent must support safe and healthy schools.

Krueger said his community would urge federal lawmakers to stand up for the Title IV program.

“I don’t think we should over-interpret that this is a done deal,” Krueger said. But “it’s really critical that [the ed-tech community] make it clear what this money would pay for.”

Richard Culatta, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, said not funding the Title IV program would cripple efforts to such as teaching computer science and using technology to “personalize” learning. He asked Congress to hit the $1.6-billion-mark.

The proposal “would deal a body blow” to many districts’ digital efforts, said Culatta, the former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s ed-tech office in the Obama administration, in a statement. “It means that once again, the future of our children is at risk because of shortsighted and uninformed policy decisions,” he said.

Career Ed., NSF Scaled Back

The consortium official noted that another source of funding to support ed-tech, Title II grants for professional development, currently funded at more than $2 billion, would be eliminated in fiscal 2018, if the administration has its way.

A program that supports before- and after-school programs, 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs, funded at $1.2 billion now, would be eliminated. And Career-and-technical education state grants, funded at more than $1.1 billion, would lose about $165 million. The program is a major source of support for states and districts connected to job and skill training, noted Reg Leichty, a founder of Foresight Law + Policy, a Washington law firm that advises states and districts.

Trump also proposes boosting school choice programs. His administration would set aside $1 billion in money from the Title I program, which supports economically disadvantaged students, for public school choice, rather than distributing the money as traditional formula funding. The new choice program would be called the Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants.

With that money, Title I funding would rise to $15.9 billion overall. But total Title I grants to districts through formula would be funded at a lower amount, $14.9 billion, in Trump’s proposed budget.

Grants to charter schools–another stated priority of Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos–would rise from $342 million to $500 million.

And a program that supports innovative school practices would be refashioned as a competitive grant program to research and promote private-school vouchers, receiving a funding increase from $100 million in fiscal 2017, to $370 million.

The creation and support of new charter schools, and private school options for students, would presumably push more decisions about budgets and operations to the individual school level–or to networks of schools managed by single companies or entities. But again, it remains to be seen whether Congress will support Trump’s vision.

Another agency that seeks to fund cutting-edge ed-tech research and academic scholarship that intersects with industry, the education and human resources directorate at the National Science Foundation, would fall from $880 million to $760 million in fiscal 2018, as my colleague Sarah Sparks reports.

Check back on Marketplace K-12 for updates on Trump’s budget proposal, Congress’ response to it, and their implications for ed-tech and business.

Photo: Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds up a copy of President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget as he speaks to members of the media in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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