Trump’s budget fails to put America’s children first
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The Trump Administration has claimed that its budget proposal will put “America First.”

But it will do the precise opposite, through cuts of up to $20 billion in education and other key areas of domestic spending that touch the lives of families. It’s a move that will hurt children and the nation’s future.

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While the details are not yet clear, the overall impact is. Such deep reductions in discretionary spending would inevitably have devastating effects on public schools in all but the wealthiest communities, almost undoubtedly causing teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, reductions in engaging courses and extracurricular activities, and less support for students struggling to afford college.

 

The Trump Administration argues massive cuts in federal education investments are needed  to pay for a $54 billion increase in defense spending -- though we already spend nine times what Russia does and three times what China does on defense. In a world where jobs and economic strength go to the best-educated people and countries, slashing public education to build the arsenal of the world’s already undisputed military leader is beyond misguided.

Even more alarming, on top of proposing to cut funds for public education at a time when greater education investments are urgently needed, the Administration wants to set aside some $20 billion for school vouchers. That strategy would divert vital  public funds to private and religious schools, despite the mounting research that vouchers do not work as a strategy for improving educational outcomes. This is not a sensible approach for preparing our future workforce and strengthening our economy.

To understand how harmful these cuts would be, let’s look at a few likely places where they would fall – in areas that comprise most of the federal education budget.

One is special education. Last year, the House Budget committee proposed a $500 million increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a program serving students with disabilities that Oklahoma Congressman and fiscal conservative Tom Cole called “one of the most efficient programs that we have.” 

The Trump budget, however, could mean big cuts to IDEA, which already falls billions of dollars short of covering the actual cost for school districts to meet their federal requirement of adequately educating students with a range of challenges from dyslexia to autism to physical disabilities.

Cutting IDEA would not only rob many students with disabilities of the help they need, it would result in schools having to boost class sizes, cut counselors and nurses and enrichment programs in order to try to minimally serve special education students. In other words, it would pose a totally unacceptable tradeoff that would inevitably hurt school quality.

Another potential source of the Administration’s cuts is the Title I program, whose purpose is to offset the generally massive difference in funding for schools in wealthy communities vs. poor ones. 

As it stands, Title I is woefully underfunded and, because our education system is largely funded by property taxes, the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world spending more to educate wealthy students than poor ones. None of the countries with the top performing education systems have such a regressive funding strategy. 

Cutting back Title I funding is especially harmful not just for urban schools but also for rural schools in communities with a shrinking local tax base. In places like rural Ohio, schools that already facing state and local funding cuts would be forced to absorb drastic additional reductions in their funding. 

Cuts could also likely hit funding for college aid, and potentially also career and technical education programs that make high school relevant and prepare students for good paying jobs – both of which would hurt future growth. During the campaign, President Trump pledged to create 25 million new jobs, but his budget is more likely to grow the number of jobs that remain unfilled. Today, over 5.5 million jobs remain open in large part because our workforce does not have the level of education or relevant skills required. A budget that disinvests in education is likely to grow that number substantially.

A decade after the Great Recession, nearly half of states still spend less on public education than they did before the economic collapse. In a world where knowledge and skills are the key to economic self-sufficiency, that’s already a recipe for failure. And now the Trump Administration is proposing to put American students even further behind.

Decent Americans of every stripe who care about our children and our future must stand up and demand that Congress refuse to go along.

Jonah Edelman is founder and CEO of Stand for Children, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for quality education in 11 states.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.