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Trump Sharpens Budget Knife for Education Department, Sources Say

The Trump administration is contemplating dramatic cuts to K-12 spending, including a possible $6 billion reduction to existing programs in the U.S. Department of Education, according to multiple education policy sources who have gleaned details about budget documents still being finalized. The department currently has a budget of about $70 billion.

The possible cuts would be included in the Trump administration's initial spending plan for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1 and generally impacts the 2018-19 school year. Such cuts in a budget proposal expected this week could mean a staffing reduction at the department in the range of 25 to 30 percent, sources said, although it's not clear how the cuts would be applied. The department currently has about 4,000 employees.

Sources said specifics on the budget in general remain in flux, and it's still unclear how much detail will be included in the initial proposal. The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Some of the programs said to be headed for the chopping block have major support on both sides of the congressional aisle. They include the roughly $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which could be slated for elimination, sources said. The program helps finance after-school, extended-day, and other enrichment programs, and is popular with lawmakers in rural states.  

Sources said the budget proposal in the works could also eliminate the third-largest K-12 program in the department: Supporting Effective Instruction state grants program, also known as Title II, Part A, which is funded at $2.25 billion and provides funding for a host of professional development programs for educators. The money can also be used for hiring teachers and school leaders and reducing class sizes. 

And there could be significant cuts to other programs, including the $1 billion Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program, which is the largest federal funding source for high schools, as well as at least two longstanding college-access programs, TRIO and GEARUP.

Sources also said they did not expect the administration to fund Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new block grant created under the law that districts could use for health, safety, technology, arts, and other programs. 

The budget could, however, make room for a $200 million pilot program for school choice, sources said. And charter school grants, currently funded at more than $300 million, could also see an increase. 

Significant proposed cuts, while eye-popping, wouldn't come as a complete surprise. President Donald Trump said earlier this year that he wants to boost defense spending by $54 billion, and make up for it with commensurate cuts to domestic programs, including K-12 education. 

There could be at least a couple of bright spots for education, sources said. They could include a proposed increase to Title I grants for disadvantaged students, which are currently funded at nearly $15 billion. It is unclear how much of the still-unknown increase would be new money, since Congress eliminated the School Improvement Grant program under ESSA and combined it with Title I. And special education state grants, funded at nearly $12 billion, would appear likely to be spared from major reductions. 

The cuts being contemplated, if proposed and enacted, could have a dramatic impact on the department, as well as state and local education budgets. At the same time though, it's hard to imagine the current, Republican-controlled Congress signing off wholesale on cuts of this scope.

"Presidents propose budgets, Congress disposes of them," said a GOP aide who had not yet been briefed on the spending plan. "Trump's a negotiator, he will come in with a low bid and see what the counterproposal is."

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