Trump’s proposed 2021 budget: ESSA overhaul, Title I cuts, CTE emphasis


President Donald Trump announced his proposed 2021 fiscal year budget Monday afternoon, once more suggesting cuts to the Department of Education and its notable K-12 programs.

Overall, the budget allocates $66.6 billion for the Department of Education, 7.8% or $5.6 billion less than the previous year.

Among proposed changes is a push to restructure the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into a block grant of $19.4 billion, which would consolidate major programs into its fold, including the Every Student Succeeds Act’s Title I and Title II, and amount to $4.8 billion less than what Congress approved for 2020.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, speaking in a press briefing, said she hopes the restructuring would encourage flexibility in how states spend their federal education dollars and cut back on federal oversight. She added the change would help education leaders “focus on people, not paperwork” and would allow states to spend money as they see fit instead of on the “pet projects” coming out of Washington.

“We can walk and chew gum on this one,” Assistant Secretary Frank T. Brogan said in the briefing, saying the effort would give states more autonomy on how they spend their federal education money while holding states accountable. 

But Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said the administration is playing “educational whack-a-mole” with its funds

 cutting in key areas to temporarily fix others. The block grant, Ellerson Ng said, would be a “dead on arrival nonstarter” Congress is less than likely to pass, considering ESEA was a strong bipartisan effort that was recently reauthorized.

The proposed budget would also invest an additional $100 million in funding in special needs, which would bring Trump’s proposed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding to $13 billion, a total similar to previous years’ suggested levels but less than the $13.9 billion Congress approved for 2020. 

Other initiatives

Among priorities the White House highlighted in its budget were Education Freedom Scholarships, which Trump stressed in his State of the Union address last week and called on Congress to pass.

The program, which DeVos has been pushing since last year, would give $5 billion in annual federal tax credits for businesses and individuals who voluntarily donate to organizations providing private school scholarships. 

While DeVos said the initiative is meant to expand education freedom for families, many are worried it will siphon away public dollars for private schools. And, combined with the block grant that would eliminate major programs including the Charter Schools Program, educators and advocates are concerned the budget suggests a “chilling” future for school choice.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement that even though Trump has “consistently said that school choice is a priority,” the 2020 budget would leave families from minority communities, especially, with fewer school choice options.

But those families are part of the reason the administration is proposing cuts and shaking up the status quo, said Assistant Secretary Jim Blew in the press briefing. 

“The bad news is that you have a one-in-three chance in having your child become a proficient reader,” Blew said, pointing to the latest NAEP scores, which showed a decline in reading scores, and saying students, especially African American, Hispanic, and low-income students, are “functionally illiterate.”

“It’s not that money doesn’t matter,” he said, “but we’re not spending it in a way to fix that problem.” 

Emphasis on CTE

Part of that spending redistribution also includes a renewed emphasis on career and technical education, with a proposed increase of $680 million for Perkins V, which would bring its total funding to $2 million. The proposal builds on Trump’s call during his State of the Union speech to ensure every high school has access to a high-quality vocational program.

As the president looks for reelection in 2020, this initiative could be his “sweet spot,” experts said, as it is one of the few that can be directly linked to jobs and growth. 

Additional programs that would be impacted under the proposed budget include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which would see a $182 billion cut over the next decade, and GEAR UP — or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — which would be consolidated with other programs under a $950 million state formula grant. 

Congress is expected to decide between now and September on the final budget. Experts say items such as the IDEA, Title I and Title IV will likely be on the agenda instead of Trump’s proposals. 

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