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Trump’s education budget boosts school choice and charter schools—and slashes everything else

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

“Power in the hands of parents and families”—that’s the key line out of US president Donald Trump’s education budget released this week.

Coming as part of Trump’s broader “skinny budget” proposal to reshape American government spending, the new education budget, if approved by Congress, would reorder the department’s priorities entirely.

The overall budget would fall to $59 billion (a $9 billion, or 13%, drop from last year)—but spending on school choice programs and charter school promotion would increase by $1.4 billion. School choice is a hotly contested idea amongst parents and educators: Supporters argue that allowing parents to send their kids to whatever schools they want can increase educational access for poor students, but critics say it’d drain talent and money out of the US’s already-struggling public schools.

Details on the proposed budget increases are as follows:

  • $168 million more for charter schools, 50% above the current level
  • A new $250 million ”private school choice program,” which will likely set up a voucher system for families to use at non-public schools
  • A $1 billion increase to Title I, a grant program focused on poor children, with the stipulation that the money must go toward facilitating open enrollment and allowing federal and local funding to follow students to a public school of their choice.

Meanwhile, here’s where the cuts would hit:

  • “Significant” reductions to federal work-study programs
  • Elimination or reduction of “over 20 categorical programs that do not address national needs”
  • $200 million in cuts to TRIO and Gear Up, programs that help disadvantaged students prepare for college
  • Elimination of the $732 million Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, an aid program helping 1.6 million students last year
  • Elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program for teacher training
  • Cancellation of $3.9 billion in Pell Grant reserves
  • Elimination of the $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports summer school and after-school programs

Two things are clear: that the Trump administration enthusiastically embraces school choice, and that it wants to sharply reign in the government’s role in student achievement. What isn’t clear, still, is everything else.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think-tank points out, the details on Trump’s budget–overall—are quite hazy. It contains less detail than any budget out of the last five administrations, going back to Ronald Reagan; it provides neither category-specific budget details nor year-by-year spending breakdowns.

The word “significant,” meanwhile, appears 14 times.

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