From the Editor

Trump FY 2018 Budget

The White House released a preliminary version of the President's 2018 Budget request this week. While it largely reflects the priorities the President has detailed throughout his campaign and since taking office, it is still something of a shock to see it all turned into somewhat concrete proposals. "America First: A Budget Proposal to Make America Great Again," which covers only discretionary spending (some 27% of the total), is short on details. The White House says those will come in the full budget, to be released later this spring. It will include the administration's mandatory budget and tax proposals, as well as a full fiscal path.

Budget cuts were expected—after all there's $54 billion that has to be found to cover increases in defense funding—but the depth of the cuts and the breadth of the reach is surprising. Proposed cuts included 31% for the Environmental Protection Agency, 29% for the State Department, 18% for Health and Human Services, 21% each for the Departments of Agriculture and Labor and 14% for the Department of Education. The National Institutes for Health is slated for a major reorganization and a 19% budget cut. Twenty-one other programs, including Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, were also totally eliminated.

The budget framework puts the Department of Education's total FY 2018 budget at $59 billion, a $9.2 billion (13.5%) cut from FY 2017. The proposed budget provides strong support for programs promoting choice and cuts a number of programs that support low-income and minority students. In addition to a $168 million increase for charter schools (+50%) and a new $250 million private-school choice initiative (likely to be implemented as vouchers), the budget proposes adding $1 billion to Title I to fund "portability." States and districts would be encouraged to use the funds for 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." While this is meant to expand choice, in rural areas and some large cities with significant housing segregation, parents are not able to exercise this choice. There are too few better options available within a reasonable distance. If we want to ensure a good education for every child, we need to be sure that local schools are the best they can be. That includes shoring up weak charter schools.

I don't know why anyone would eliminate Title II, which the schools use to fund professional development, except needing that $2.4 billion to use for other purposes. This program is far from perfect, but some rethinking and tighter rules about eligible uses would be the better solution.

Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a little over $1 billion, was zeroed out. This program provided after-school and summertime care and extended learning opportunities. The administration says it's not effective at improving student achievement. Small gains have been seen, but what about safety, nutrition and extended learning time? Many low-income working families - a key part of the Trump base - rely on the services that the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program provides.

The current budget proposal has lots of holes. No funding was provided for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, a new program under ESSA designed in part to help schools broaden the curriculum and use technology to support learning. There's no mention of Career & Technical Education, Head Start, and the National Science Foundation all of which are part of the broader education agenda. And the elimination of non-education programs that support the arts and cultural programs will also impact the schools. There's a sense that the folks who put this budget together were not in full command of data that would have helped them take a more nuanced approach.

It remains true, even in this atypical administration, that with respect to budgets, the President proposes and Congress disposes. Individual senators and representatives have their own priorities. In some cases regional priorities will find Democrats and Republicans on the same side - or closer to working out a compromise than may be expected. Some opposition will come from the simple fact that a given congressperson can't sell the various cuts back home in the district. In the end Congress may attempt to distribute the cuts more evenly, but cuts are inevitable.

So what's next? What is on the table right now is certainly not the bottom line for the Department of Education, but it does provide a clear picture of what the administration sees as important. There are lots of people who see things differently and Congress has final authority over the budget. Now it's time to marshal facts and gather information and evidence. Congress needs to hear, often and forcefully, what the broader community of parents and supporters of public schools believe is best for American education.

A final note. The Continuing Resolution which is funding government operations in place of a real FY 2017 budget expires on April 28. While there had been some speculation that Congress would put together a more formal FY 2017 budget, that seems pretty unlikely right now given everything that's on their plate. We may see another CR that takes us from the end of April through September 30 to close out FY 2017. While a CR generally holds funding level with the previous fiscal year, Congress does have the ability to make adjustments for individual programs. Somehow I don't think they will have the appetite to argue out those potential changes; attention has shifted to FY 2018. FY 2018 starts on Oct. 1, 2017 and with forward-funding and other budget adjustments generally impacts the 2018-19 school year.