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Defying Trump, Democrats Propose $4.4 Billion Boost for Education Spending



House Democrats want a $4.4 billion spending increase for the U.S. Department of Education in the coming fiscal year, including notable increases for special education, educator training, and a $260 million initiative focused on social-emotional learning. 

The spending legislation unveiled Monday would provide $75.9 billion in discretionary funding for the department in fiscal 2020, compared to the $71.5 billion it currently receives in fiscal 2019. A host of programs would receive additional funding, whereas the budget request submitted last month by President Donald Trump seeks to slash Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' budget by 10 percent. Title I, the biggest pot of K-12 cash, which is intended for disadvantaged students, would get $16.9 billion in fiscal 2020, $1 billion more than what it gets now. Special education grants to states would also rise by $1 billion, up to $13.4 billion. 

Want a sharp contrast? Trump wants $64 billion for the department in fiscal 2020. The gap between his proposal and what the House Democrats want is $11.9 billion, or 16.6 percent of current department spending. 

And remember the viral outrage over Trump's initial proposal to cut nearly $18 million in support for Special Olympics? Democrats want to give it $21 million in fiscal 2020, or $3.5 million more than what it gets now. (Trump rescinded his original proposal.)

The House subcommittee that oversees education spending reported the bill favorably to the full House appropriations committee on Tuesday. Last month during a hearing with DeVos, Democrats in the House as well as the Senate made it clear (as they have with each of Trump's three budget requests during his adminstration) that they strongly disliked his Education Department proposals, including a proposal to create a federal tax credit for educational choice. 

Just as many pieces of Trump's budget request are pretty unlikely to get approved by Congress, you shouldn't take it for granted that any or all of these proposals from House Democrats will become the law of the land either. Among other things, the Senate is controlled by Republicans—although Senate GOP appropriators have ultimately backed small increases for education spending since Trump took office, a $4.4 billion increase for the Education Department is probably too rich for their blood. 

Here are some other highlights from the legislation:

  • Trump wants to eliminate three prominent department programs: state grants for educator training, after-school activities, and block grants for student support and academic enrichment. Democrats want more money for all three. Under their proposal, those educator training grants would go from $2.1 billion to $2.6 billion, after-school programming would get $1.3 billion instead of $1.2 billion, and the block grants would get a $150 million increase for a total of $1.3 billion.
  • The portion of federal education law for English-language acquisition typically doesn't attract a ton of attention (although it has more recently in the Trump administration), but it's a huge winner in the Democrats' bill. Right now it gets $737 million. The Democrats want to increase its funding by $243 million for fiscal 2020.
  • What about that social-emotional learning initiative we mentioned earlier? The $260 million would be spread across four existing programs: Educator Innovation and Research, Full-Service Community Schools, School Safety National Activities, and Supporting Effective Educator Development. Education Innovation and Research would get the biggest share of this money at $170 million.
  • Not surprisingly, Trump and DeVos' pitch to create $5 billion in annual tax credits for educational choice (called Education Freedom Scholarships) are not mentioned in either the House legislation itself or in a bill summary provided by the House appropriations committee. 

Photo: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House appropriations committee, speaks before a hearing earlier this month. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

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