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What Could Trump's Broad Budget Plans Mean for Education?


After months of speculation about how President Donald Trump would approach the budget, we now have at least a general idea: Trump will seek a $54 billion increase for defense-related spending and a corresponding cut in other discretionary funding in fiscal 2018, according to published reports. So what could that mean for the U.S. Department of Education budget. We don't know the crucial details yet, but one thing's for sure: Many education advocates are concerned. 

First, rememember that many funding advocates have been watching to see how the Trump administration handles those mandatory budget caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending imposed, which is commonly called sequestration. Now we have a (perhaps unsurprising) answer: more money for defense and roughly a 10 percent cut for discretionary spending at domestic agencies like the Education Department. Also keep in mind that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said recently that she'll look for places to make cuts in the department's budget.

The Education Department's current budget is just over $68 billion, so a 10 percent cut would be roughly $6.8 billion. What are the biggest programs by dollar amount that could lose money?

  • Pell Grants to support low-income students attending college are funded at $22.5 billion.
  • Title I funding for disadvantaged students is $14.9 billion.
  • Individuals With Disabilities Education Act money for students in special education is funded at $12.9 billion.

Together, those three line items in the budget account for $50 billion, or about 73 percent of the Education Department's total spending. Earlier this month, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that drafts the department's budget, indicated to us that Title I and IDEA funding are crucial budget building blocks for many school districts. But it could be unsafe to assume that means the big-ticket items will be left alone in Trump's budget proposal, which is expected some time in March.  

"We are concerned that this administration will not prioritize the protection of Title I students," said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. 

Ellerson added that the increase in defense discretionary spending and corresponding cut to domestic spending like education programs is a "complete departure" from the Obama administration's approach that sought parity between defense and nondefense discretionary spending in the context of sequestration. "It's inherently inequitable" she said.

It's also possible that the Trump administration will achieve the 10 percent cuts at the Education Department by completely eliminating or drastically cutting smaller programs. That means things like Promise Neighborhoods ($73.3 million), the Education Innovation and Research program ($120 million), and funding for state assessments ($378 million) could be on the chopping block. And the office for civil rights, which has been the subject of a lot of attention under Trump and DeVos, is currently at $107 million.

Before he was elected, Trump stated that he would end the sequester caps on discretionary defense spending—we analyzed what that would mean last September. We don't know yet if the 10 percent cut in non-defense discretionary spending will apply equally to all agencies. The Education Department might get a bigger or smaller cut as a percentage of its overall discretionary budget.

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