What to Know About Education Funding in Trump's Budget

Blog Post
Feb. 10, 2020

The following blog post breaks down President Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request. It is broken down by the topic area that New America prioritizes in the education space, from infant to adult.

On Monday, President Trump submitted to Congress his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021. As in past years, the budget is unlikely to be passed by lawmakers in anything close to its current form.

But this annual exercise does provide the President a chance to signal his priorities -- especially important heading into an election season. And this year’s ask of Congress, much like past requests, would cut 7.8 percent from the U.S. Department of Education’s annual appropriation, and proposes to eliminate $5.6 billion in education programs.

Here is what we know so far related to some topics we track at New America from early education to higher education to adult learning.

Early Education

On top of the 7.8 percent cut to U.S. Department of Education funding, the proposal also includes a 10 percent cut in funding to the Department of Health and Human Services, leaving that agency with a total budget request of $94.5 billion. HHS is where many early care and education programs, such as Head Start and grants to subsidize child care, are housed. And as in past years, the budget calls for entirely eliminating the Preschool Development Grant program. Currently, this program is funded at $275 million, and 26 states and territories were recently awarded funds to either complete needs assessments and strategic plans for meeting early care and education needs or to implement the strategic plans they’ve already crafted.

The HHS budget maintains current funding levels for Head Start at $10.6 billion and for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) at $5.8 billion. Like last year’s, the budget includes a one-time investment of $1 billion for a competitive fund to build the supply of child care for underserved populations and stimulate employer investment in child care. States that apply for the funds would be required to match federal dollars, explain how they would increase the supply or cost-effectiveness of child care offerings, and describe actions they are taking “to reduce unnecessary regulatory requirements.” Many child care regulations ensure the health and safety of children, so any reduction in regulations should be carefully considered.

The Department of Education budget also calls for a sharp reduction in funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program (CCAMPIS), which provides grants to colleges and universities to help low-income students afford child care through the use of a sliding fee scale based on income. The budget cuts CCAMPIS funding from its current level of $53 million down to only $15 million -- an effort to reverse the major funding increase Congress provided the program beginning in fiscal year 2018. Finally, the education budget request maintains current funding levels for preschool grants for children with disabilities at $394 million. These grants assist states in providing education to children with disabilities between the ages of three through five.

Elementary and Secondary Education

Special Education:

The headline for special education is that it has been spared cuts. But while the proposed budget lists that it “invests significant resources for students with disabilities,” the $100M increase hardly registers as an improvement to the original federal commitment to fully fund IDEA. The initial promise by Congress, nearly four decades ago, to cover 40 percent of the extra cost to educate students with disabilities has never been met and remains with this budget below 15 percent. The last estimate of how much more it costs to educate the typical student receiving special education services (roughly double that of a student not receiving services) was from the Special Education Expenditure Project (SEEP) using 1999-2000 data. If there is an argument to be made about efficiencies in special education provisions, it would best be made with updated research estimates on special education spending and the real cost to serve students with disabilities compared to students without disabilities.

Block Grants:

The Trump Administration is proposing a consolidation of almost all programs authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act through a new $19.4 billion block grant, dubbed the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged (ESED) Block Grant. The block grant would consolidate 29 formula and competitive grant programs—which cover everything from supporting teachers, to funding investments in low-income students, to addressing the needs of English language learners, to student supports like mental health services and college counseling—into a single grant program that would be allocated to school districts using the current Title I formulas. States and school districts would be able to use ESED Block Grant funds for any authorized purpose of the programs consolidated into the block grant—Titles I, II-A, III-A, and IV-A.

The Administration is claiming $4.8 billion in budget savings through the ESED Block Grant over current funding levels. Title I alone is currently funded today at $16.3 billion. If states and districts continue to prioritize funding for Title I activities, that would only leave approximately $3 billion for all of the remaining activities that separate program funds are currently targeted for.

Educator Quality:

Among the programs that would be consolidated into the ESED Block Grant are the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants (more frequently referred to as Title II, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), which funds teachers’ ongoing professional development (PD), class size reduction, and other efforts to improve the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. The Administration proposed eliminating the $2.1 billion program entirely in its 2018 and 2019 budget requests, as it has done with most funding that supports elementary and secondary education teachers. The block grant would also subsume the $80 million Supporting Effective Educator Development program (SEED), which supports teacher recruitment, training, and professional development; and the Teacher and School Leader Incentive (TSLI) Grants, which are intended to support performance-based compensation and human capital management systems for teachers and school leaders ($200 million).

The Trump Administration also targets educator funding in the Higher Education Act (HEA) as the ESED Block Grant would also absorb the $50 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant program, which supports innovation in teacher preparation by competitively funding teacher-preparation programs to partner with high-needs districts to better serve their students.

English Learners:

Also consolidated into the ESED block grant would be the English learner (EL) education program, currently funded under Title III. After a trend in recent years of providing flat funding for ELs, a budgetary cut is an even more painful blow -- especially given that the law underpinning these programs authorized an increase in funding to nearly $885 million for ELs.

The EL student population is fast-growing and currently makes up 10 percent of all K-12 students. Federal funds play a critical role in supplementing local and State funding so that this sizable group of students has access to the resources they need to acquire English-language skills and master academic content. Subsuming funding for EL education into a wider pot of money—and giving states full discretion over this pot—would decisively undercut this goal.

Most critically, it is unclear how much states would allocate to EL education or how this funding would break down on a per-pupil basis. Currently, federal funding averages $150 per each of the roughly 4.9 million EL students in the country, an amount that is widely regarded by districts as insufficient to meet the needs of English learners, particularly those with refugee and immigrant backgrounds. States also contribute dollars to EL education, often through complicated funding formulas that sometimes make it challenging to track down how EL-specific funds are used. Complicating matters, some states have a track record in failing to provide sufficient funding for ELs.

Without dedicated funding through appropriations, it is also uncertain whether states would continue to invest in activities currently funded by Title III programs such as the National Professional Development grant program, which provides funding for professional development activities intended to improve instruction for ELs. Likewise, it is uncertain whether states would invest in programs that support Native American language instruction for ELs from Native American and Alaska Native backgrounds, such as those currently funded by the Title III National American and Alaska Native Children in School program.

Trump’s proposal comes two years after the administration proposed eliminating the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). The now-discarded plan similarly aimed to merge EL-specific resources into the wider umbrella of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Lawmakers will likely reject the White House’s budget. Still, Trump’s plan to cut funds uniquely designated for ELs is an important signal of the administration’s continued lack of interest in meeting the full needs of EL students.

School Choice Programs

The Administration’s budget also includes a proposal, originally introduced last year, for Education Freedom Scholarships, which would provide up to $5 billion annually in “State-designed scholarship programs that could support a range of educational activities such as CTE, special education services, and tuition for private school.” The tax credits would be awarded for donations to scholarship programs for families of elementary and secondary students who are seeking other education options.

Afterschool Programs and Other Enrichment

In his past budgets, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate programs for after school and other enrichment programs under Title IV, Parts A and B of ESEA, and this year’s request is not much different, as the programs would be consolidated into the ESED Block Grant. Part A—the $1.2 billion Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) program—was put into place by Congress to give school districts greater flexibility in using federal funds for college and career counseling, afterschool STEM activities, arts, and civics. They could also use the funds to support drug and violence prevention, mental health, and physical education, or to increase access to technology and to targeted professional development opportunities. Part B of Title IV—the $1.3 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program—provides grants to communities for out-of-school-time programs serving students in high-poverty and low-performing schools. Programs provide academic enrichment to help students meet state and local standards, as well as activities to complement the regular academic program, such as hands-on STEM education, financial literacy, art, and sports.

Districts would have to decide how to prioritize their ESED Block Grant allocation of funds among this wide variety of activities, in addition to the other activities currently funded by Title I, II, and III.

Higher Education

Many of the higher education proposals in the budget request are familiar from past budget requests: a new income-driven repayment plan that asks high-income borrowers to pay more each month and graduate student borrowers to pay for as long as thirty years; eliminating the popular-but-fraught Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; and dropping an in-school interest subsidy available to students from low- and middle-income families. As in past years, the budget proposes to expand Pell Grants to (very-) short-term programs, apparently without any protections to ensure those programs lead to well-paying and high-quality jobs. And promisingly, it calls for greater evaluation of higher education programs by allowing the Department to pool funds across programs to fund evaluations. (There’s no indication the Department is taking evaluations of its planned and ongoing experiments as seriously, sadly.)

This year’s proposal to Congress does include a few new points, though. Most notably, the proposal asks lawmakers to strictly cap spending in the parent PLUS and grad PLUS programs. In both cases today, borrowers can access up to the full cost of attendance--an amount set by the school. Under the new version, parents would be capped at an aggregate $26,500 in parent loans -- a sharp curbing of borrowing limits, given that the average annual cost of attendance at a public four-year college totals around $24,000. Students would be able to make up some of the difference through increased student loans, but only up to an aggregate $57,500 between the student’s and the parent’s debt. This could lead many families at more expensive colleges to the private education loan market -- and doesn’t solve a critical problem that our colleague identified in The Wealth Gap PLUS Debt, in which very low-income parents take on unaffordable debts due to insufficient grant aid. For graduate PLUS borrowers, the caps are higher (up to $50,000 a year, or $100,000 in aggregate). But the Administration also proposes to consolidate all graduate student borrowing into the plus program, meaning all graduate students must be able to pass a check that they don’t have an adverse credit history, or take their chances with private education loans.

Also of note, the Administration proposes (for the first time in a budget request) to extend Pell Grants to programs for incarcerated individuals. That’s good news -- our recent report, Equipping Individuals for Life Beyond Bars, found that education did confer literacy and numeracy skills on incarcerated students that put their skills on par with Americans more broadly. But the proposal would strictly cap eligibility to students within five years of their likely release; our latest publication finds no difference in interest or ability on either side of a five-year line, but significant differences in access by race/ethnicity, with particularly severe implications for younger men of color.

Adult & Skills Education

While President Trump’s budget proposal includes level funding for adult education programs and activities (at $670.7 million) authorized under Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, it calls for a significant increase in funding for career and technical education (CTE). If implemented, the president’s budget would allocate $2 billion in formula grants to states (an increase of $680 million over FY 2020 funding), which could assist states in implementing the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) that was signed into law in 2018 and takes full effect in July of this year. The budget also calls for $90 million (an increase of $82.6 million over FY 2020 funding) to support federal CTE improvement efforts, including innovation and modernization grants.

The administration is looking to drum up additional CTE resources through its Labor Department budget. Like last year, the Trump administration is proposing to amend the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 in order to double H-1B visa fees that employers pay when filling job openings in specialized fields like science, engineering and information technology with highly-skilled foreign professionals. New H-1B funds would be used to increase CTE formula grants to states and help fund the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to expand apprenticeships. The administration is also requesting $200 million (a $25 million increase from FY 2020 funding levels) for apprenticeships and is asking Congress to make Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs), which have yet to be codified in regulations, eligible for federal funding.

Related Topics
Federal Education Legislation Federal Education Legislation & Budget