Trump’s education budget: 4 things to know for CT schools

CtMirror.org

A school bus drops off students at a school in the south end of Hartford

President Donald Trump unveiled a budget outline Thursday that slashes federal funding for education by 14 percent – cuts that would cripple programs that thousands of Connecticut children participate in each year.

He also is proposing some increases for school choice and left the state’s major education grants untouched.

Here are four things to know about what the proposal could mean to you.

Special education

Federal funding for special education would be flat-funded.

Given that special education costs in Connecticut’s school districts are the fastest growing expense, flat funding from the federal government probably would result in reductions to general education in many districts because federal law forbids cutting spending on programs for physically and intellectually disabled students. Just under 10 percent of spending on special education currently comes from the federal funding.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget also essentially recommends the state flat fund special education, though he is proposing redirecting more of that aid to the poorest communities.

School choice

As expected, the Republican president’s budget offers a big incentive to expand enrollment in nontraditional public schools, including charter and private schools.

It would be up to school district and state leaders, however, to seek any of the $1 billion in new funding Trump has “dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables federal, state, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”

The U.S. Department of Education would eventually “ramp up” that funding.

It’s unclear whether state leaders would embrace the federal offer. Past efforts at the state level to have state money follow students to whichever school they enroll in have fallen short.

Malloy and the state Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the longtime House chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, have both said that such approaches would inappropriately siphon money away from high-need schools.

Trump also is proposing a $168 million boost for charter school funding – a 50 percent increase – and a new $250 million program that could be used for a private-school choice program that was not described further.

“The budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs,” U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

There was no mention in the budget outline of a new federal tax credit for donations to private-school scholarships, which Trump highlighted in his first address to Congress and during a visit to a Catholic School in Florida earlier this month.

In Connecticut, enrollment in school choice programs has taken off over the past two decades. This school year 66,557 students – one-in-eight public school students – attend non-traditional public schools. This includes the 9,573 students in charter schools, 39,911 in integrated regional magnet schools that enroll suburban and city students, and 11,000 in vocational high schools.

Programs for impoverished students

The budget proposal leaves untouched the largest source of federal education money for Connecticut’s schools, the so-called Title 1 grant, which provides schools in the state with about $120 million annually. However, the proposal would eliminate funding for several programs geared toward improving educational outcomes for students from low-income families.

Trump proposed eliminating the $9 million the state receives each year for before- and after-school programs and summer programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.

“The programs lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement,” the budget proposal reads.

These grants, which run between $25,000 and $200,000 a year, currently help pay for programs in Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury and numerous other communities. (See here for which communities.)

Funding also would be eliminated for AmeriCorps, which runs an after-school program for struggling students. There were 658 students participating in these programs throughout the state – primarily in Bridgeport and New Haven – as of February.

Not mentioned in the president’s slim budget preview is what funding level he wants for Head Start, which provides childcare and preschool for low-income families. Also unmentioned were the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which investigates complaints, or the Career and Technical Education program, which helps fund high school programs throughout the state.

Devos said the budget, “continues support for the nation’s most vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities”

But, she continued, “Taxpayers deserve to know their dollars are being spent efficiently and effectively. This budget is the first step in investing in education programs that work, and maintaining our Department’s focus on supporting states and school districts in providing an equal opportunity for a quality education to all students.

Colleges and Universities

Trump proposes making huge cuts in funding for federal research. Most notable, he proposes a 20 percent reduction to the National Institutes of Health, the federal agency that many colleges and universities in Connecticut depend on most for federal research funding.

The budget proposes a “major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities” and recommends the government “rebalance Federal contributions to research funding.”

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