News, Trump Administration

Trump budget, as expected, to roll out massive school choice expansion

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

In the midst of last week’s near-constant stream of Russia-Trump news, you could be forgiven if you’ve forgotten President Trump has plans to announce the details of his federal budget plan Tuesday.

Already dubbed a “caricature of conservative cruelty” by The Daily Beast, Trump’s plan is expected to include major cuts to programs for the poor as well as a promised expansion of federal school choice support.

Of course, a president’s budget is truly subject to the machinations of Congress, so it remains to be seen whether Trump’s plans will come to fruition, particularly at a time when the Russia scandal seems to have engulfed his legislative agenda.

For the moment, though, those expecting a truly enormous ballooning of federal school choice support for charters and private school vouchers will not be surprised. The most comprehensive coverage, thus far, comes from The Washington Post.

From the Post:

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly said they want to shrink the federal role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children’s schools.

The documents — described by an Education Department employee as a near-final version of the budget expected to be released next week — offer the clearest picture yet of how the administration intends to accomplish that goal.

Though Trump and DeVos are proponents of local control, their proposal to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies is reminiscent of the way the Obama administration offered federal money to states that agreed to adopt its preferred education policies through a program called Race to the Top.

The proposed cuts in long-standing programs — and the simultaneous new investment in alternatives to traditional public schools — are a sign of the Trump administration’s belief that federal efforts to improve education have failed. DeVos, who has previously derided government, is now leading an agency she views as an impediment to progress.

“It’s time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government’s arcane approach to education,” DeVos said this month in Salt Lake City. “Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts.”

Of course, given the Russia controversy and opposition to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, expect fierce criticism of Trump’s K-12 plan, and not just from Democrats.

As The Post noted last week, enthusiasm for the expecting spending plan seems lackluster even among top GOP lawmakers in D.C.

Asked for comment, a spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, referred to Alexander’s response in March to the release of Trump’s budget outline. That statement emphasized that while the president may suggest a budget, “under the Constitution, Congress passes appropriations bills.”

All told, the president’s plan is expected to slash federal investment in the U.S. Department of Education by more than $9 billion. In that way, it’s not dissimilar from state Republican plans to dramatically cut state dollars designated for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, as reported by Policy Watch this month.

Watch for updates on the Trump plan Tuesday.

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