Education in the United States took a $9.2 billion slash last week when President Donald Trump proposed his spending plan for the fiscal year.
The budget, created by the walking slogan himself, was titled, “America First, A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” This budget proposed some of the most dramatic budget cuts the agency has seen in years
Trump’s spending plan encourages eliminating $2.4 billion in grants for teacher training, $1.2 billion in summer and after-school programs and, most importantly, financial aid programs to college students. As a result, the administration proposes shifting those cuts toward $1.4 billion increase in spending for “school-choice” initiatives.
Last year, 61,757 students received $36,090,939 in Pennsylvania in Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) funding. The SEOG can give students up to $4,000 in financial aid, but Trump’s proposed spending plan completely eliminated funding for SEOG.
The budget protects the Pell Grant program, one similar to the SEOG, but none of the funding from the SEOG will transfer to the Pell Grant program. The budget describes the reason for the cut as “to reduce complexity in financial student aid.”
The proposed spending plan also greatly reduces funding for Federal Work-Study, a program where the government subsidizes students’ pay for working approved jobs. Over 58,000 students in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were granted $71.6 million through Federal Work-Study just this past year.
This budget reeks of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Her beloved traditional public school vouchers make a big splash in Trump’s spending plan. The plan increases investments in public and private school choice to an annual total of $20 billion, taking up around 34 percent of the entire education budget.
DeVos and Trump’s initiative to reshape K-12 education begins with school vouchers, a “coupon” backed by state money parents can use to send their children to their school of choice, including technical, special education, online, private and, in some states, parochial schools.
Although this system seems like a neutral solution, there are many political and legal implications imposed upon it, the biggest one being the good ol’ First Amendment—the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court ultimately upholds the constitutional right of vouchers, but many states have what is called a Blaine Amendment, prohibiting public spending on religious schools, one of those states being Pennsylvania.
Another implication of the voucher system is the imbalance in certain communities. The system is meant to provide support for low-income students, children with disabilities or families zoned to a failing public school. In a small, rural American town, this could be most of the public school’s population. A larger voucher system could potentially shut down a small town school district because they have a smaller population of students who largely have the option to leave.
The final implication of this portion of the spending plan has Congress saying, “Not this again,” the problem being most of the funding for these vouchers comes from Title I.
Last year, Congress went through a long process to rewrite the ground rules for Title I, a program that sends additional money to districts with at-risk students. It is hard to say if Congress would buck up and amend the changes that were made less than a year ago to appease Trump’s budget.
Unfortunately, the research behind these voucher systems is inconclusive.
Micah Ann Wixom, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, said, “Most studies find modestly positive or neutral impact on student scores, and that’s generally limited to African-American students in large urban centers.”
Meanwhile, a survey in 2011 by the Center of Education policy states, “Achievement gains for voucher students are similar to those of their public school peers.”
Some states like Louisiana and Ohio found negative results on student achievement by using the voucher system.
The lack of substantial evidence on the impact of school vouchers provides uncertainty even to those who work at these “choice” schools like myself and my mother, Angela King, a administrator at a local technical school.
“It seems that voucher programs are a temporary fix for only a small number of students in inner cities that may have more private school choices,” said King. “However, the vouchers don’t help the poor students in rural areas with no other choice than the public school. Instead, wouldn’t it make sense to invest all of the money into the public school system as a whole to help all students?”
It is good to remind ourselves that Trump’s proposed budget is just that—a proposal. Congressional lawmakers will draft their own budget and pass a plan that will not come out until May.
Congress, we are counting on you to save our public schools.
Erin King is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at EK800454@wcupa.edu.