The Trump-DeVos budget is hostile to public education

In the heat of an election year, it can be easy to get caught up in emotions of the moment rather than calmly engage in a thoughtful consideration of a candidate’s positions, record, and public statements. This is especially true with the passions surrounding the upcoming 2020 election. When NJEA and NEA consider candidates for endorsement however, emotion is pushed aside. Candidates are evaluated on what they stand for and how that affects public education.

While there is plenty of emotion surrounding the current occupant of the White House, it is his record on public education among other issues, not his party affiliation, that should concern NJEA members. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 education budget proposal that President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released on Feb. 10 demonstrates their hostility toward the schools where you work—the very same schools that this year are ranked best in the nation by Education Week in its Quality Counts report.

The Trump-DeVos FY 2021 budget proposal would slash education program funding by $6.1 billion—an 8.4% decrease compared to current levels. Funding through the Every Student Succeeds Act and several related programs will be repackaged into a proposed Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant. It would be funded at $19.4 billion, which represents a reduction of $4.7 billion from current funding levels for the programs absorbed into the block grant.

Programs such as Title I, Title II, English Language Learners, Full-Service Community Schools, rural education, literacy programs, charter schools, and competitive grants would be absorbed into the block at reduced overall funding. Programs outside the block, such as Supplemental Education Grants, Indian Aid, and training and advisory services are frozen at FY 2020 levels.

Trump’s hostility toward public education was dramatically demonstrated in his State of the Union address where his only direct references to public education described our students as “trapped in failing government schools.”

As he awarded what he termed an “Opportunity Scholarship” to a fourth-grade student from Philadelphia, Trump called on Congress to support his proposed “Education Freedom Scholarship” program. The program would divert $46 billion away from public schools over 10 years—up to $5 billion a year to fund private school vouchers. It’s no coincidence that this isn’t far from cuts to ESSA and other education programs.

The Philadelphia Inquirer later reported that the fourth-grader is not receiving a scholarship. DeVos is personally paying her tuition. This illustrates the cynicism of the voucher programs such as the one proposed by the president. They slash education funding for the more than 85% of American children attending public schools to provide a private or religious school education to a small percentage of students.

The only “bright spot” in the budget is a $763 million increase in funding for Career and Technical Education, increasing the total funding to $2.1 billion. The budget also increases funding to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by $100 million. This 0.8% increase is still a far cry from full funding of IDEA, which would require a 300% increase. To be fair, no administration has ever fully funded IDEA.

NJEA Preservice members would fare poorly under the Trump-DeVos education budget. It cuts funding for the Federal Work-Study program by more than half and eliminates Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Subsidized Federal Student Loans.

Outside of the education budget, but affecting our students and low-income members, Trump is proposing a $180 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years—a nearly 30% cut—and a $20 billion cut to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Trump’s proposed budget also puts NJREA members—and future NJREA members—at risk. In his State of the Union speech, Trump emphatically declared “We will always protect your Medicare, and we will always protect your Social Security. Always.” In reality, he’s proposing to cut Social Security by $30 billion over 10 years, Medicare by $850 billion over ten years and Medicaid by $1 trillion over 10 years.

Congress will undoubtedly reject much of the Trump and DeVos education budget proposal, but the president’s and secretary’s hostility toward public education should not go unnoticed. Opposition to Trump by educators is not because he is a Republican. It’s not because he’s “Trump.” It’s because his positions, his record, and his public statements are harmful to public schools, the children who attend them and the educators who work there.

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