Washington Update. To Be or Not to Be: That is the Budget Question

The Trump administration’s “skinny budget” was submitted to Congress on March 16, 2017. Overall, this budget blueprint asks for $54 billion in reductions to non-defense programs in order to cover the proposed boost in defense spending. The proposed budget received little support from both Republicans and Democrats, and was almost unanimously criticized by education associations, think tanks and related groups.

Most Congressional members felt the proposed FY 2018 budget was “dead on arrival.” Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), the former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, spoke on Congress’ role: “Presidents propose, Congress disposes. We've not had our chance yet.” Rogers was one of several GOP lawmakers to dismiss Trump's budget as a pie-in-the-sky wishlist with little hope of surviving negotiations in Congress. Most Republicans gave passing support to Trump's general goal of increasing defense spending while reducing costs elsewhere in the budget. But none would fully embrace the specific White House blueprint.

The “skinny budget” proposes a 13 percent cut in funding for the U.S. Department of Education and eliminates four education-related agencies. Budget specifics are discussed in greater detail below.

Congress must pass a budget or another continuing resolution by April 28th to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year that ends on September 30. If not, there would be another government shut down. Congress will be on its Easter/Passover Recess for two weeks. They return on April 25, which allows for only four legislative days to finalize the FY2017 budget.

This piece’s title is really posing a series of questions including:

  • Will Congress pass a continuing resolution or budget resolution by April 28? Or will we have another shutdown?
  • Will Congress agree to the increases, reductions and eliminations included in the “skinny budget?” If not, what will they do before the beginning of the FY2018?
  • Will Congress make the cuts to the FY2017 budget requested by the president?
  • When will Congress address the debt ceiling?
  • What other administration priorities will be enacted during the current session of Congress, including tax reform?

“Skinny Budget” Proposed Changes in Education and Related Areas
The “skinny budget” title is “America FirstA Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.  The budget link is: www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/2018_blueprint.pdf.  A description of the Education budget proposal can be found beginning on page 17.

This budget blueprint is more of a wishlist. Budget proposals cannot be enacted into law. In fact, the administration’s budget might not get any votes in the House or Senate. This budget is a bellwether on how the administration views government spending and the federal budget.

The president’s first proposed budget slashes the Department of Education funding by $9 billion. Its budget is reduced from $68.2 billion to $59 billion. This is not the greatest percentage among federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency takes the largest cut at 31 percent.

The proposal downsizes or eliminates a raft of grants, including those for teacher training, after-school programs, and aid to low-income and minority college students in an amount totaling $3.7 billion. The cuts would be coupled with a historic investment — $1.4 billion — for charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives that the president promised during the campaign.

Some of the proposed education budget numbers include:
  • Increases investments in public and private school choice by $1.4 billion compared to the 2017 annualized CR level, ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion, and an estimated $100 billion including matching state and local funds. This additional investment in 2018 includes a $168 million increase for charter schools and $250 million for a new private school choice program;
  • Increases Title l by $1 billion, 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.
  • Maintains approximately $13 billion in funding for IDEA programs to support students with special education needs. This funding provides states, school districts and other grantees with the resources needed to provide high-quality special education and related services to students and young adults with disabilities.
  • Eliminates the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program. The rationale used — it is poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.
  • Eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs, resulting in savings of $1.2 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The rational used — the program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.
  • Eliminates the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, a less well-targeted way to deliver need-based aid than the Pell Grant program, to reduce complexity in financial student aid and save $732 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.
  • Safeguards the Pell Grant program by level-funding the discretionary appropriation while proposing a cancellation of $3.9 billion from unobligated carryover funding, leaving the Pell program on sound footing for the next decade.
  • Protects support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions, which provide opportunities for communities that are often underserved, maintaining $492 million in funding for programs that serve high percentages of minority students.
  • Reduces Federal Work-Study significantly and reforms the poorly targeted allocation to ensure funds go to undergraduate students who would benefit most.
  • Provides $808 million for the Federal TRIO Programs and $219 million for GEAR UP, resulting in savings of $193 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. Funding to TRIO programs is reduced in areas that have limited evidence on the overall effectiveness in improving student outcomes. It funds GEAR UP continuation awards only, pending the completion of an upcoming rigorous evaluation of a portion of the program.
  • Eliminates or reduces over 20 categorical programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs or are more appropriately supported with state, local or private funds, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property and International Education programs.

Also, the Trump administration's proposal eliminates four key agencies and a total of $971 million. These agencies support education, individuals and nonprofit groups across the country, such as dance companies, radio stations, orchestras and theaters. They are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that supports public television and radio including PBS and NPR.

Furthermore, this budget blueprint chops funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, or close to 20 percent. President Trump has said he wants to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program, but the proposal would eliminate a Transportation Department program that funds nearly $500 million in road projects. Also, It does not include new funding amounts or a tax mechanism for Trump's infrastructure program, postponing those decisions and others.

The Request to Cut the 2017 Education Budget
President Trump wants to cut $3 billion from the current education budget after they proposed the 13 percent cut for FY 2018. He has asked Congress to slash funding for the last five months of the fiscal year. The White House sent House and Senate appropriators detailed instructions on how they should craft spending legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill expires. Education is not the only agency from which they seek cuts but the deepest reductions are in education.

The administration proposes a $1.3 billion cut from Pell Grants’ surplus this year on top of the $3.9 billion proposed for FY2018. It is also seeking to cut in half ESSA Title II, Part A that helps boost teacher and principal quality through professional development and also funds efforts to reduce class sizes.

This program is eliminated entirely in FY2018.

Other education programs on the chopping block this fiscal year include:

  • $47 million program that provides grants to school districts and other organizations to support physical education programs;
  • $49 million competitive grant program that provides money for elementary and secondary school counseling;
  • $152 million program to boost math and science instruction; and
  • $189 million program called Striving Readers that provides competitive grants to states to improve literacy instruction.

Note: All of these programs were eliminated in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The legislation created a new large state block grant for those types of support and enrichment activities.

Trump has also called for cuts from the current fiscal year in other agencies that fund education programs such as:

  • National Institutes of Health (3.8 percent cut);
  • National Science Foundation (5 percent cut);
  • NASA (nearly 1 percent cut);
  • National Endowment for the Arts (10 percent cut);
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (10 percent cut); and
  • Educational and cultural exchange programs at the State Department (23.7 percent cut).

These cuts, if approved by Congress, would be absorbed by federal agencies between April 28 and Sept. 30. Top Congressional appropriators have indicated that they're prepared to reject Trump's calls to gut programs they deem important — and some have said the White House weighed in too late in the appropriations process to affect the outcome for the current fiscal year.

Impact of the Budget Blueprint
To put it simply, it is uncertainty and nervousness.

States, local school districts, postsecondary institutions, nonprofit service providers and students are unsure of what level of funding will be available for the coming 2017-18 school year.

In postsecondary education, many low-income students are unable to plan ahead because the level of funding for Pell Grants has not been determined, and universities are unsure what level of funding will be available for several grant programs — such as TRIO — that provide support for students in need of additional academic assistance.

State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are having a difficult time planning and budgeting for this coming September. Both are unclear as to how much federal funding will be available for a variety of programs mentioned above, including teacher professional development, after-school activities, reading support and others. How can LEAs hire new teachers if the amount of funding is unknown?

Each one of these entities, as well as other education nonprofits that provide education services, is unclear what amount of federal dollars will be available for their programs. Everyone is in limbo until Congress acts on the continuing resolution for FY2017, and decides on a federal budget for FY2018 or just passes another continuing resolution for the new fiscal year.

Numerous people have commented on the administration’s skinny budget.

Two of the comments:
By Andy Rotherham, Bellwether Education: “President Trump's first budget stands out as an exceptional missed opportunity in education and across a range of federal agencies. Ignore the theatrics about Trump's new battle with Big Bird, he won't win that one. And remember that some of the programs the president is putting on the chopping block are ones that President Obama sought to cut, too.

“By proposing to cut more than $9 billion from the Department of Education, the president is sending a signal that making America 'great again' doesn't involve investments in her people. That's a 13 percent cut — a staggering figure even for those who question some federal education spending. The problem isn't just cuts. Even the president's own issues are handled unimaginatively in the budget blueprint...”


By David DeSchryver, Whiteboard Advisors: …. “There is an adage in Washington about presidential budget proposals: 'The president proposes and Congress disposes.' Congress decides what gets cut and what doesn't, not the president. This document is just what the title says it is: a policy blueprint that presents this administration’s recommendations to Congress….”


One can call it a “mess” for those who receive federal dollars except the military, Homeland Security and related agencies. The other federal agency budgets are cut at various levels. As stated earlier, everyone seems to be in limbo until Congress decides and disposes. Unfortunately, lately Congress has deferred decisions by enacting a Continuing Resolution.

It is a safe to say that the “skinny budget” will not be the final FY18 budget. But how many of the proposed increases, cuts and program and agency eliminations will stand? We will need to be patient to learn the final Congressional decisions.

Will the FY2018 budget “make America great again?”