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A budget that puts students last

President Trump’s recently proposed budget slashes $9 billion, or 14%, from the Department of Education, while increasing funding for “school choice,” by $1.4 billion.  It comes as no surprise that Trump’s proposed cuts fall hardest on programs that benefit low-income students.

Nothing in this budget is set in stone. In in order for a federal budget to become law, it must gain the support of Congress. As this budget works its way through Congress, we will learn which PA lawmakers support our children and their public schools and which don’t.

The Trump budget:

  • Maintains current federal funding for special education, BUT proposed Medicaid cuts would shift $140 million in PA school special education costs to the state and local levels

Proposed federal cuts to Medicaid funding threaten to eliminate more than $140 million in federal reimbursements to PA school districts, charter schools, vocational schools, and pre-school early intervention programs. Under Pennsylvania’s ACCESS program, schools are currently reimbursed for the cost of health-related services provided to students with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. If Medicaid funding from the federal government is capped, federal ACCESS funding for students with disabilities will likely no longer be guaranteed. The state will need to backfill more than $140 million for our schools when federal funding disappears in order to avoid shifting $140 million in new costs onto local school districts. Anyone remember how that worked out in 2011?

  • Eliminates $1.2 billion in federal funding for afterschool and summer programs

The Trump budget eliminates $1.2 billion in federal funding for the 21st Community Learning Centers Program, which supports before- and after-school programs and summer programs for students who are mostly poor. The Trump administration claims that, “there’s no demonstrable evidence they’re doing that, helping results, helping kids do better in school.”

Even ardent Trump supporter, PA Congressman Lou Barletta, disagrees with the White House on this issue, stating that the afterschool program in his district that receives federal funding, “…has a record of success when it comes to providing kids with educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had and benefiting families in Northeastern Pennsylvania who balance work and raising their kids in a healthy environment.”  We need all PA congressmen to join Barletta in calling on Trump to fully restore this funding to the budget.

  • Eliminates $2.4 billion from the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program

This program pays for professional development for educators and class-size reduction in school districts—two things research clearly demonstrates help improve student achievement.

  • Slashes higher education funding for low-income students

The Trump budget flat funds the Pell Grant program, but reallocates $3.9 billion in carryover Pell Grant funding to other government spending. This budget cuts nearly $1 billion in funding for low-income students, including eliminating the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program and slashing funding from the Gear Up and TRIO programs.  It also significantly cuts the federal work study program.

  • Increases funding for school “choice” by $1.4 billion

Charter schools will see a $168 million increase and an undefined “school choice” program will see a $250 million increase. This budget proposes an increase of $1 billion in Title I funding that is specifically, “dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables Federal, State, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”

Congress adopted Title I in 1965 to direct additional federal funding to school districts and buildings with high concentrations of students in poverty. Title I funding allows buildings to create schoolwide programs and whole school reforms to provide additional supports that are critical to meeting the needs of high numbers of poor students.  A federal mandate that Title I funding be allocated to eligible students, regardless of the concentration of poverty in their schools, would significantly dilute the impact of this funding and deprive buildings with high concentrations of students in poverty of critical resources. Title I “portability” would also lay the groundwork for “portability” of taxpayer funding to private schools through voucher programs–perhaps the true intent behind this proposal.

Budgets are moral documents that express the priorities of the people who have been elected to represent us, our children, and our communities. As we watch our state and federal lawmakers work through the budget process we will learn a lot about what they value and whether or not they deserve our support.