The Department of Education might be finally getting a much-needed trimming. The White House recently released its federal budget proposal and the budget cuts to many departments has created the predictable media storm. The America First budget increases defense spending by $54 billion, then offsets that by reduced spending on various government programs and departments. The 13.5 percent cut to public education is an area that has naturally amassed some predictable backlash.
The Trump administration budget plans to eliminate Supporting Effective Instruction, a federal plan worth $2.25 billion which is essentially a grant program designed to recruit, support and train educators for high-need schools. Unfortunately, this spending plan has thus far not demonstrated a positive impact. For example, according to the Hoover Institute reworking class size and teacher development has shown little return on investment.
Another program on the chopping block is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers plan, which “supports before-and after-school programs as well as summer programs.” The plan also lacks any real evidence of meeting its goals. Based on the reports provided by the 21st CCLC, the strategy has failed to meet the academic improvement goals set for them. Slashing this item will result in $1.2 billion in taxpayer savings.
The education budget intends to increase investment in public and private school choice by $1.4 billion, making the annual total come in at $20 billion. Most of the public and school choice funding goes towards the $1 billion increase in the Title I program – which provides funding for schools with poorer students.
However, that funding comes with federal encouragement for districts and states to “adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables Federal, state, and local monies to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”
Naturally, some organizations are not school choice push, such as the American Federation of Teachers. AFT President Rand Weingarten said of the budget proposal, “only someone who doesn’t know what public schools do and what kids need would contemplate or countenance these kinds of cuts.”
National Review also reported Weingarten saying, “They do what we feared would happen when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was nominated: defund public schools with the aim of destabilizing and destroying them.”
For example, New York City public schools, the nation’s largest district, has a budget of $29.2 billion. Of that, the federal government puts in an estimated $1.7 billion.
An important point to note about this financial plan is it’s only a “blueprint” or “sketch.” This proposal may be the plan that is proposed by President Trump. However, the budget must compete with Congressional ideas for public education.
Also, this education budget proposal advances the conservative and libertarian understanding that less federal involvement in education will ultimately increase the quality of education.
Public schools have seen minuscule improvement in graduation rates since 1970, and yet with adjustments for inflation, spending per student since World War II has increased 663%. A significant portion of that money has gone toward funding staff increases. The staff increase rate since that time is four times greater than the student rate increase. This data essentially proves the point that continuing to throw money at our public schools will not fix the problems with the nation’s schools.
The budget push for school choice has research to prove that it will improve public schools and not “destroy” them. Research by The Friedman Foundation had key findings for school choice:
Thirty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s effect on students’ academic outcomes in public schools. Of those, 31 find choice improved public schools. One finds no visible effect. One finds a negative effect.
Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools. Of these, 25 find school choice programs save money. Three find the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
Overall, the administration budget plan intends to reduce federal involvement in public schools. Instead of increasing government influence in public education and continuing to throw money at the problem, the plan takes an alternative and innovative route by giving power back to the states in determining what is best for their students.
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