President Requests Cuts to Education, School Choice Expansion

President Trump submitted his budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2019 to Congress on Monday, as Congress still works to finalize funding levels for the current fiscal year.  Overall, the budget proposes cutting approximately 5 percent from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) funding when compared to the FY 2017 enacted levels.


The President’s proposal provides little surprise, tracking closely to the budget request submitted for ED last spring.  The White House proposes eliminating a number of programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), including Title II-A Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and the new Student Support and Academic Achievement block grant authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as some smaller programs.


As part of the proposal, savings from some program eliminations would be shifted into a new Opportunity Grants program, funded at $1 billion, “to expand both private and public school choices, particularly for students from low-income families or those attending schools identified for improvement under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”  Specifically, the new grant would offer funding to a few States to allow them to provide scholarships to low-income students to transfer to a private school, and some of the funds would be distributed to help States participating in the ESSA weighted student funding pilot program build upon that flexibility.


An additional new proposed grant program would allocate $43 million to help schools implement opioid abuse prevention strategies.  The Administration also seeks to increase funding for charter schools and magnet schools by $160 million and $98 million, respectively.


Outside of the program eliminations mentioned for elementary and secondary education, several programs would be relatively flat-funded under the proposal, including career and technical education (CTE) State grants, special education, and ESEA Title I funding for disadvantaged students.  ED does suggest, however, allocating an additional $20 million for CTE programs specifically in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.


On the higher education front, the Administration seeks to consolidate the few income-based repayment plans for federal student loans currently offered into one option and eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and federal subsidized student loans, aligning with the House Republican proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.  In addition, the White House requests that Pell Grants be made available to students pursuing training in “high-quality, short-term training” programs.


Finally, despite the budget agreement reached by Congressional leaders last week, which authorizes an increase in funding for both defense and non-defense programs for FYs 2018 and 2019, the President requests an annual 2 percent decrease for ten years in the topline budget cap for non-defense programs.


However, if last year is any indication for how receptive Congress will be to the Administration’s proposal for education funding, a number of the President’s requests, such as school choice funds, will be dead on arrival in Congress.  The President’s budget serves primarily as a suggestion to lawmakers and provides an opportunity for the Administration to outline some of its policy priorities for the upcoming year, but Congress may opt to enact as much or as little of the request as it sees fit.


The President’s proposal applies to FY 2019 funds, which are the amounts that States will receive on July 1, 2019 to be used for school year 2019-2020.  Congress is still in the midst of crafting final funding legislation for the current fiscal year, or the funds that States are set to receive this July.


Resources:Andrew Ujifusa, “Trump Seeks to Cut Education Budget by 5 Percent, Expand School Choice Push,” Education Week: Politics K-12, February 12, 2018.


Author: KSC

About the Author

Kelly Christiansen is an associate with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Title I Association.