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Four Things to Watch in the House Bill Funding Betsy DeVos' Department

On Thursday, the House appropriations subcommittee will consider legislation funding the U.S. Department of Education. It's the first step Congress will take in deciding how much to give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. Early indications are that lawmakers aren't incredibly enthusiastic about what DeVos and President Donald Trump are proposing for Education Department spending. 

But what are some big things to watch for as the House subcommittee, which is led by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., gets going tomorrow afternoon? Here are a few items to keep your eye on:

1) What will be the overall funding level for the department?

As we've noted, the Trump budget contains the largest proposed cut to the department since President Ronald Reagan's fiscal 1982 budget proposal—Trump's budget would make a $9.2 billion cut to the department from current fiscal 2017 levels, down to $59 billion. But legislators, most prominently Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the man who oversees the Senate subcommittee in charge of department spending, have signaled they're not too hot on the major cuts in what Trump and DeVos have put forward.

That's not to say there won't be any notable cuts. Remember, Congress is controlled by Republicans. But they likely won't be on the scale of what Trump administration is seeking. 

2) Will Congress go along with the specific cuts to big programs?

Speaking of notable cuts: Trump wants to eliminate about $2 billion in spending on Title II spending on teacher-training programs, as well about $1.2 billion in after-school programs. Those cuts account for just over a third of the overall department cuts the administration wants. Other programs that would either be totally wiped out or reduced including the department's comprehensive literacy programs, traditional Title I aid to districts, special education grants, and the office for civil rights.

In its fiscal 2017 spending outlays, Congress cut Title II aid but actually increased the after-school program's budget. What if anything do those moves signal for fiscal 2018?

3) What's the fate of the school choice initiatives Trump and DeVos desire?

Aside from the overall and specific cuts, nothing has stirred the post more in Trump's budget for schools than the $1.4 billion the president wants for three school choice programs. There's $1 billion for public school choice, a 50 percent increase to charter school grants up to $500 million, and perhaps most controversially a $250 million private school choice program that would provide grants for the purpose to states.

In May, Cole said he was enthusiastic about the prospect of more money for charter schools, but he didn't address the private school or public school choice pushes.

4) Will "the big block grant" designed to fund a diverse set of school programs get any money?

Compared to other big-ticket programs, the Title IV block-grant program, which now gets $400 million, isn't a particularly large budget item. But it gets a lot of attention (perhaps even adoration) from a diverse set of education advocates. That's likely because Title IV is intendned to fund a diverse set of programs, from student well-being to education technology.

Trump wants to ditch funding for Title IV entirely. But many districts would welcome the additional cash, even if many of them won't see a ton of money. Whose side will Congress take?

Want an overview of Trump's budget plan in under 60 seconds? Watch the video below:


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