President's Budget Proposes Cuts to Education, Expands School Choice

The Trump Administration released its more detailed proposal for the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget on Tuesday – a supplement to the President’s “skinny” budget issued in March.  Funding for K-12 and higher education would face significant cuts while the Administration aims to fund more school choice initiatives.


The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) overall budget would see a $9.2 billion, or 13.6 percent, decrease from the FY 2017 funding level recently approved by Congress.  Formula grants under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), would be funded at $14.8 billion – a $578 million decrease from FY 2017 – but the Administration proposes providing an additional $1 billion in funding under Title I in order to support a new school choice grant program.  That program, the Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants, would offer funding to local educational agencies (LEAs) that use weighted-student funding formulas and open enrollment policies to allow federal, State, and local dollars to follow students to the public school of their choice.  In addition, charter school grants would get a $157.8 million boost in funding compared to final FY 2017 levels.  The Administration aims to expand school choice through the Education Innovation and Research program as well by providing an additional $270 million, allowing competitive grants to States and districts to offer scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools, and by funding research on private school choice.


Some ESEA programs would be completely eliminated under the President’s budget, including Title II Supporting Effective Instruction – consistent with the President’s “skinny” budget – based on a lack of evidence that the program increases student achievement and a belief that the grants are poorly targeted.  The new Title IV block grant under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) would also be cut.  That program received only $400 million in the final FY 2017 appropriations bill – much lower than the $1.6 billion authorized.  Title IV, Part B, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, would be nixed as well.  The Administration states that these Title IV program activities can be supported through other available funds and that there is no evidence that the 21st CCLC increases student achievement. Some other program eliminations include Ready-To-Learn Television, Arts in Education, and School Leader Recruitment and Support.


Career and Technical Education (CTE) State grants would receive $168 million, or 15 percent, less than the FY 2017 amount, despite the Administration’s recent public support for CTE and the House Education Committee’s advancement of a Perkins Act reauthorization last week.  National Programs under the Perkins Act, however, would get an additional $20 million to be used to develop and expand innovative science, technology, engineering, and mathematics CTE programs.


The student aid system would be streamlined and simplified with the elimination of a number of student loan programs, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, federal subsidized loans for undergraduate students, and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.  The budget also calls for consolidation of all five income-based repayment plans into a single option.  Meanwhile, the maximum Pell Grant award would remain the same as the 2017-2018 award year level and $3.9 billion previously appropriated for Pell Grants would be cancelled.  However, the proposal does offer support for the availability of year-round Pell Grants.


Other cuts would include an $85 million decrease to Head Start and zero funding for the Preschool Development Grant program, which was moved to the Department of Health and Human Services under ESSA.  According to ED, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act State grants would see a less than one percent cut, with a $112.6 million decrease from the final FY 2017 level of approximately $12 billion, maintaining federal support for special education around 15 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (the Office of Management and Budget numbers, however, indicate a suggested cut of nearly $954 million; it is not clear which number is correct).


Although the President’s budget contains drastic cuts and program eliminations, the budget is merely a suggestion to Congress.  Congress holds the final decision-making authority for federal appropriations, which means funding for FY 2018 could look significantly different than what the Administration proposed this week.  Democrats on the Hill have already condemned the President’s proposal, and many Republicans have been hesitant to offer support or have criticized certain proposed cuts.


Andrew Ujifusa, “Trump Budget Would Slash Education Dept. Spending, Boost School Choice,” Education Week: Politics K-12, May 23, 2017.

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.