Making Education Worse Again

Someone, please tell me what part of making America great again involves taking money from Special Olympics and giving to the wealthy. In a week where the firing of James Comey, increased calls for President Trump’s impeachment, and the president’s first trip overseas have dominated the headlines, The Washington Post quietly published details from Trump’s proposed education budget that will be officially released sometime this week.

Long story short, President Trump and Secretary DeVos are proposing the elimination of 22 federal programs totaling approximately $9 billion. Looking at their cuts objectively, some of them seem necessary because the programs were funded by the U.S. Department of Education and another federal agency. However, most of these programs are completely necessary and are intended to help the nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

One glaring example of this is a proposed $10.1 million cut to Special Olympics Education Programs.  Another one is a proposed $1.1 billion cut to 21st Century Learning Centers, which “awards local subgrants to support before, after, and summer school programs that provide safe spaces and opportunities for academic enrichment for nearly 2 million students at roughly 11,500 centers.” Among other things, these learning centers allow students to continue learning over the summer while their parents are at work. These parents--most of which live in Appalachia--can’t afford child care and would be forced to leave their children at home, unattended, so that they can make a living, while risking abandonment charges and being called bad parents. The proposed cuts also include $168 million to Perkins funding, $400 million to student support and academic enrichment programs, $490 million to work study programs, and $96 million to adult education--all of which will harm career and technical education (CTE) programs.

All of these cuts would be much easier to swallow if they were for some higher purpose. Instead, Trump and DeVos want to use those savings to promote voucher and school choice initiatives. Under the new budget, the Trump wants to allocate $1.4 billion to expand vouchers, leading eventually to $20 billion a year in funding. About $250 million of these funds will go toward a private school-choice program, while $168 million will be set aside for charter schools.

The federal government has majorly disrupted public education three times in the past 16 years--No Child Left Behind in 2001, Race to the Top in 2009, Every Student Succeeds Act in 2016--and have little to show for it. Of course, to be fair, the Every Student Succeeds Act hasn’t been in effect long enough to have any discernable impact. The impending school choice shift will make disruption number four. When President Trump ran for office, he vowed to stop the governmental interference in public education, yet, his base and his education secretary will not stand for this. They want to push programs that are well-documented to fail students.

The people who stand to benefit the most from this new vision for public education are, of course, the upper-middle class and the rich families. One of the proposals to help expand vouchers or opportunity scholarships is to allow a federal dollar-for-dollar tax credit to families who make a donation to a school tuition organization (like a private school). Another idea is to give school systems more money if they promote school choice, which would include publicly-funded for-profit charter schools. These types of schools are popping up all over the country, and they have a very poor track record of success. One only need to look at Secretary DeVos’s home state of Michigan for clear examples of this.

Congress will ultimately decide what to do with Trump’s education budget, and it’s not likely that all of his proposed cuts will be kept. With that said, Trump is creating a dangerous precedent that will permanently destroy public education and make it easier to privatize in the future. Having a quality public education system impacts us all; therefore, we should all stand up to Trump’s education budget. Why should the wealthy have an easier time sending their kids to private school at the expense of special education students, working parents, and students who intend to pursue a degree in a technical or vocational field?