Trump Administration Uses Education As A Political Leveraging Tactic
Complete with devastating cuts across K-12, aid for higher education, and student enrichment programs, the House version of the federal budget was unveiled Monday afternoon. Before we get into the details, it should be noted that cuts this deep into the education budget rarely, if ever, receive Congressional approval. There is very limited bi-partisan and even exclusively Republican support for the majority of this budget. That said, you’re still going to want to sit down for this one.
Higher Education and Student Debt
As we previously reported, this budget cuts the federal work study program in half and phases out the public service loan forgiveness program. In newly announced cuts, the government will cease to subsidize the interest on federal loans, affecting 12 million students.
In addition to removing the subsidized interest, the budget also complicates the repayment process for federal loans. Under it’s current design, students are presented with plenty of repayment options. The new budget proposes that monthly payments be capped at 12.5% of discretionary income, with balance forgiveness after fifteen years. No other options will be available. A silver lining, however, is the extension of the Pell Grant. While now only available during the fall and spring semesters, the grant will be available all year round.
Totaling $1 billion in cuts, the higher ed and student loan budget would exacerbate already difficult situations, especially for our nation’s poorest students. In a country with generations already crippled by student debt, these initiatives (should they be adopted) would make a bad situation worse.
The 2018 proposed budget earmarks $1 billion for grant programs to high-poverty public schools. Better recognized as the buzzword term “school choice,” these grants allow poor students to leave their struggling schools and switch to a better school district on the state’s dime. This is, of course, in opposition of investing the funds into the edifying reform of impoverished schools and districts. School choice, the hallmark of Secretary DeVos prerogative on education, has become a debate nearly as contentious as her confirmation.
These grant programs will allow better funded districts to continue to thrive, while the under-funded, short staffed, rural, and disenfranchised will continue much the same.
School choice, in the structure the education department has adopted, does not solve the issues facing these challenged school districts. In fact, cuts being made to the education budget would absolve the greater chance that these issues could see progress made. These grants benefit families and students who have the means to provide transportation to a school at a greater distance and who also live in communities where multiple school options are available. For children in rural America this is a particularly crushing budget cut.
We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs. We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off of those programs and get back in charge of their own lives.” — Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget director
An additional $400 million will be going to expand charter schools and the public school voucher program. Still to come, however, from the Trump administration will be the introduction of how the education tax credit program snowballed into Trump’s tax reform will additionally impact this program.
The Child Tax Credit will also be under great reform in 2018. Trump’s plan would require otherwise beneficiaries to have a social security number, regardless if their children are U.S. citizens.
The largest blind spot of the school choice ideology is the assumption that moving students out of less than satisfactory situations will make the situation better. It is a short-sighted, band-aid attempt to “fix the system” without actually fixing the system.
The biggest cuts come in the form of $2.5 billion worth of programs for teacher training/credentialing, class size reduction, student support and academic enrichment. The budget would cut 22 programs including an after-school program for 1.6 million, predominantly poor, children.
The after-school cuts are especially troubling for a budget that also includes the first ever federal parental leave policy. The policy would give six weeks full-pay leave to new biological and adoptive parents, which if instated, would be a game changing plus for many families. If the family unit is now vital to this administration’s use of federal funds, after-school programs that provide safe and educational spaces for children should be part of what keeps working parents working.
In another puzzling cut, career and technical education loses $168 million in funding. This is particularly baffling due to Secretary DeVos’s personal benefaction of vocational and professional training schools in her home state of Michigan. Not only has Secretary DeVos championed these programs in her private sector career, but she has previously vowed to increase funding and create larger initiatives for students who choose vocational training.
Already walking back on promises and cutting back on commitments to strong family units is not an unusual tactic for this administration. However, to see our children’s future used as a political leveraging tactic is particularly egregious.
You will be hard pressed to find a time in history where this much scrutiny was placed on the Department of Education and it’s secretary. Secretary DeVos was incredibly disliked from the start and her impractical ideals toward education have been in continuous debate around kitchen tables and in the press for months now.
With the budget announcements this week, the debates are far from over and the proposed policies are being viewed with vehement contempt by teachers, parents, and debt holders alike. As noted from the start, the chances of this budget being passed through the House in it’s current state is slim to none.
Then again, the last time we thought the chances of getting something we didn’t want were slim, we ended up with Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.