Students will suffer under Trump’s education budget
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The progressive world expected Trump’s budget to reveal drastic cuts. But the proposed “skinny budget” was particularly severe and wildly uninspired – our environmental future took a direct hit with a 30 percent cut to the EPA, and popular, successful programs like AmeriCorps, job training, Meals on Wheels were gutted. 

They even cut after-school programs. 

An overwhelming sense of anguish from progressive groups has set in, and I get it. The Administration’s proposal is reckless, and already-struggling Americans will be stuck with the consequences.

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At Students for Education Reform (SFER), we’re worried about how this budget will impact students. Much of the budget directly targets our most at-risk kids, including low-income students, young people of color, and communities that already have no access to great schools. Beyond the 13 percent cut to the Education Department’s budget, the skinny budget makes clear that the Trump administration doesn’t have the right priorities for students.

 

First, Team Trump plans to axe Title II grants for “supporting effective instruction,” which is even grimmer than I’d imagined. The grants awarded under Title II go to states and non-profit teacher training organizations to help encourage innovation in classroom instruction. Instruction is the closest factor to kids and great teaching practice is the most immediate game changer for kids who have been left behind. 

Many states and districts rely on this money to pay teacher salaries and compete for grants with the expressed purpose of getting underserved schools access to great instruction.

The budget signals a dangerous move away from the federal government’s concern for teacher quality. There should be more pressure, not less, to demand high-quality teachers. It is the most effective and efficient way to improve the lives of students.

At SFER, our student members are also passionate advocates for school choice. The current proposal does include the largest federal investment that we’ve ever seen – a $168 million increase for charter school expansion, and $250 million for voucher programs. But without strong leadership and an eye for accountability, the writing's on the wall – students are going to get hosed.

There was a big opportunity here to restructure how we expand school options and ratchet up our expectations for all schools to perform at the highest level. But the team at the helm doesn’t seem to care much for innovation or accountability. From what we’ve heard from Secretary DeVos in her hearing, Trump on the campaign trail, and now this budget, the approach is as follows: “Do more of that school choice thing, because we like the theory of it.”

Don’t get me wrong here, I agree with the theory, and all real progressives should want kids to have access to a variety of school options that will help them succeed, especially in traditionally underserved neighborhoods. But without strong accountability measures in place, and an administration that advocates for all kids – no matter their background, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity – students lose.

The budget sets the wrong priorities for school choice. The biggest investment is in a first-of-its-kind federal private school voucher program. It’s unprecedented, unfounded, and doomed to fail. The best voucher programs are local, and they have strong accountability measures for the destination schools.

The plans are reviewed and evaluated for success, and the incentive for private schools to take voucher kids are effective. Without that, kids lose. Why would the administration go with probably the least certain and most local, according to the research, of the school choice mechanisms?

It’s because they like the theory. And again, so do I. I believe vouchers have to be a part of picture for kids in failing districts, but not the primary strategy for the federal government. Students don’t just have a right to options; they have a right to an education that works.

Choices won’t make a difference unless you protect the rights that kids have to a high-quality education, top-notch teachers, and safe learning spaces as soon as they walk through the classroom door. The Trump team is all-in on the theory, and it isn’t going to work.

The Trump skinny budget is anti-innovation, anti-accountability, and anti-student. The administration is presenting a dangerous, regressive vision for America and the role of the federal government.

If you care about students like I do, join me in calling your Congressional representatives today, and demand that the final budget put students first.

Jonathan Hebert is the National Policy Director for Students for Education Reform. He follows education policy at https://medium.com/@SFERnational.


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