Trump's first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice

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Donald Trump, then president-elect, stands with Betsy DeVos after a meeting in November 2016.

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by the Washington Post.

The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly said they want to shrink the federal role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children's schools.

The documents - described by an Education Department employee as a near-final version of the budget expected to be released next week - offer the clearest picture yet of how the administration intends to accomplish that goal.

Though Trump and DeVos are proponents of local control, their proposal to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies is reminiscent of the way the Obama administration offered federal money to states that agreed to adopt its preferred education policies through a program called Race to the Top.

The proposed cuts in long-standing programs - and the simultaneous new investment in alternatives to traditional public schools - are a sign of the Trump administration's belief that federal efforts to improve education have failed. DeVos, who has previously derided government, is now leading an agency she views as an impediment to progress.

"It's time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government's arcane approach to education," DeVos said this month in Salt Lake City. "Washington has been in the driver's seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts."

The proposed budget would also reshape financial aid programs that help 12 million students pay for college.

A White House official said Wednesday it would be premature to comment on any aspect of "ever-changing, internal discussion" about the president's budget prior to its publication. "The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars," the official said.

The Education Department had no immediate comment.

The budget proposal calls for a net $9.2 billion cut to the department, or 13.6 percent of the spending level Congress approved last month. It is likely to meet resistance on Capitol Hill because of strong constituencies seeking to protect current funding, ideological opposition to vouchers and fierce criticism of DeVos, a longtime Republican donor who became a household name during a bruising Senate confirmation battle.

Under the administration's budget, two of the department's largest expenditures in K-12 education, special education and Title I funds to help poor children, would remain unchanged compared to federal funding levels in the first half of fiscal 2017. However, high-poverty schools are likely to receive fewer dollars than in the past because of a new law that allows states to use up to 7 percent of Title I money for school improvement before distributing it to districts.

The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.

The documents obtained by the Post - dated May 23, the day the president's budget is expected to be released - outline the rest of the cuts, including a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

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