The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Congressional Spending Deal and Trump’s Proposed Education Budget

Is the federal government's 2019 Proposed Budget a favorable one for education? You decide.

It is very rare that two significant budget actions occur in the same month. Congress passed a sweeping two-year spending agreement and the president released his 2019 Proposed Budget for the federal government. This article covers both, as they affect education and related programs.

Given the two-year agreement preceded the president’s announcement, it will most likely make the proposed budget dead on arrival. It will be interesting to see how the Appropriations committees address the different numbers.

Some of what is written will cite references that contain additional details. The link to each is provided.

One can identify the good, but it may be hard to differentiate the bad from the ugly if you support education and related domestic programs.

For some background, you can read Congressional Budget Process: A brief primer.

Congressional Two-Year Bipartisan Spending Agreement 
(Is this good or bad? You choose.)

On February 9, the Senate leadership agreed to a bi-partisan two-year spending proposal, which passed both the Senate and House and was signed by the president. This was historic, but it was not without opposition from Republicans and Democrats for different reasons, and it created a brief government shutdown.

The spending legislation passed the Senate 71-28. It provides spending caps for defense and domestic priorities, disaster aid to hurricane-hit regions, lifted the federal borrowing limit for a year, and extended CHIP for 10 years. In the House the bill, passed with a vote of 240-186, 73 Democrats voted for the bill, while 119 voted against; and among Republicans, 167 supported the bill and 67 voted no.

The deal reached includes an additional $4 billion in funding for higher education during the next two years. The agreement only vaguely describes how the money should be used, and this could set off a fight in the coming weeks over how to allocate an unexpected new infusion of money. 

Putting this in context, a $2 billion boost to higher education discretionary spending this year is substantial. The Education Department's entire discretionary budget for fiscal 2017 was about $68.2 billion. House appropriators have approved a $2.4 billion cut to that figure for fiscal 2018; their Senate colleagues approved a $29 million overall increase.

The legislation leaves specific spending decisions up to appropriators, which means the fight over how to allocate the extra $2 billion for higher education will shift to the Appropriations committees. In the coming weeks, lawmakers will rewrite bills to fund the government for fiscal 2018 and eventually roll them into an omnibus measure before the end of March.

The new cash for higher education wasn't included in the text of the budget agreement, H.R. 1892 (115), that raised overall spending caps. But it was part of the underlying pact reached among congressional leaders. In the end, the leaders stated they would work with appropriators to make sure that a slew of spending priorities, including higher education, receive funding in the fiscal 2018 omnibus and fiscal 2019 appropriations bills.

The deal spelled out an additional $2 billion in funding for each of those years to be spent on "student-centered programs that aid college completion and affordability, including those that help police officers, teachers, and firefighters."

Here is the Senate's $89.3 billion disaster aid package aimed at helping storm-battered regions, which includes $2.7 billion for education-related recovery efforts.

The package, wrapped into the two-year budget bill targets $2.5 billion to restart operations at K–12 schools affected by hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and by wildfires on the West Coast. The funds to be overseen by the Education Department could also be used to financially support schools outside the storm-ravaged areas—both public and private—serving students displaced by the natural disasters. Colleges and universities would also receive support, with $100 million going to higher education institutions and students in areas affected by hurricanes and wildfires. Up to $75 million would go to colleges and universities outside the affected areas serving displaced students.

We shall see how this progresses over the next few months.

The President’s Proposal for an Education Budget is Entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness—Prioritizing Students, Empowering Parents”
(Is it good, bad, and/or ugly? You decide.)

Keep in Mind: The president’s request is largely a messaging document. It attracts a lot of reaction in its first few days, and Congress will hold hearings on specific agency proposals, but little of it ends up in the final bills lawmakers write.

The Trump budget proposes to overhaul the nation’s safety net, with giant cuts to housing, food stamps, and health care, all of which will adversely affect the country’s poorest students and families.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated during the department’s budget briefing for stakeholder groups that the Trump administration's 2019 budget request would help "reduce the federal footprint in education." The budget, which calls on Congress to reduce discretionary spending at the agency by $3.8 billion, "focuses on improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, while also returning power to those closest to them," DeVos said during the briefing.

The six major themes in the President’s FY 2019 Education Budget:
  •  Providing better choices for more families to attend a high-quality school
  •  Supporting high-quality special education services to children with disabilities 
  •  Creating new and alternative pathways to successful careers for students 
  •  Promoting innovation and reform around STEM education 
  •  Implementing school-based opioid abuse prevention strategies 
  •  Making the Department more efficient while limiting the Federal role in education 

The Proposed 2019 Education Budget materials are all posted here.

The Department’s Press Release: President's Budget Expands Education Freedom, Protects Vulnerable Students
The U.S. Department of Education today released the administration's budget request for the 2019 fiscal year. The budget builds upon President Trump’s commitment to expand education freedom for all families and return power to local leaders. 

“The president’s budget request expands education freedom for America’s families while protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “The budget also reflects our commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level. I look forward to working with Congress to pass a budget that puts students first and returns power in education to where it belongs: with states, districts and families.” 

Highlights from the FY 2019 budget include:
  • $1 billion increase for public and private school choice through the new Opportunity Grants program
  • $200 million dedicated to STEM education
  • More than $13 billion to maintain the federal investment in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act State formula and discretionary grants
  • $15.5 billion to maintain the Federal investment in Title I grants to Local Education Agencies(LEAs)
  • $43 million for School Climate Transformation grants to help States and LEAs mitigate the impacts of the opioid epidemic on students and schools

Here is the fact sheet.

Here is the full budget request.

But that is only part of the story. The president's proposal slashes the Education Department's budget by more than 5 percent, cutting back the agency's $63.2 billion in discretionary funding by $3.6 billion. The administration initially sought much steeper cuts—totaling $8 billion—but released an addendum after Congress reached the two-year spending deal.

The two-year spending cap deal raises the non-defense discretionary spending caps. The president added back funding to ED’s FY 2019 Budget request in an addendum that includes: 
  • Impact Aid Basic Support Payments: +$525 million—new total $1.189 billion. 
  • TRIO: +$400 million—new total of $950 million. 
  • School Choice: +$500 million—new total $1 billion.
  • Work Study: +$300 million—new total $500 million. 
  • Elimination of the Pell Rescission of $1.6 billion in unobligated balances in the Pell Grant program. 
Of the 22 agencies, centers, and programs to be eliminated, half have a direct or indirect education role:
  • The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool)
  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (Gear-Up)
  • NASA Office of Education
  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • The Legal Services Corporation
  • The National Endowment for the Arts
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

For the whole list and explanations, go here.

The budget proposal calls for the elimination of 29 education programs that “have achieved their intended purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused or cannot demonstrate effectiveness.” The 10 largest in funding are:*

  • Supporting Effective Instruction States Grants
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool)
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
  • Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants
  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)
  • Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants 
  • Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants
  • Strengthening Institutions 
  •  Promise Neighborhoods
  • Impact Aid Payments for Federal Property
* Go to the Department’s budget documents for the full list.

The Trump education budget does provide insight into the administration's thinking on higher education and postsecondary education policy.

Appropriators will likely balk at many of the cuts, particularly those campus-based aid programs. Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations committees last year rejected Trump's proposal to eliminate funding for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and GEAR UP, for example. The Federal Work-Study program, which the Trump administration has proposed to cut roughly in half, has also enjoyed bipartisan support on the Appropriations committees.

The White House and Education Department want a role in the Higher Education Act reauthorization conversation including:
  • Education Department’s effort to include a short-term component for Pell grants. The budget calls for expanding Pell "eligibility to high-quality short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification, or license in an in-demand field, with sufficient guardrails in place to balance students' needs with protecting taxpayers' interests." The broadening of Pell, the budget projects, would cost $401 million over 10 years, and the administration proposes to pay for it through a reallocation of mandatory spending on the program.
  • Focus on risk sharing: The Trump administration budget endorses the idea of evaluating colleges based on the rate at which their students repay their federal loans. 
  • Overhauling income-based repayment: The budget proposes streamlining and consolidating federal income-based repayment programs. The plan would cap undergraduate student loan borrowers' monthly payments at 12.5 percent of their discretionary income and forgive any remaining amount after 15 years. Graduate student loan borrowers would have to make payments for 30 years under the plan. In addition, the administration proposes "auto-enrolling severely delinquent borrowers" in an income-based repayment program—and allowing for a seamless annual re-enrollment in income-based repayment for all borrowers.

Also, the budget proposal consolidates six HEA Title III and V programs into an institutional-based formula grant program with a budget of $147.9 million.

Congress is in the midst of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. We will see several policy changes in the Senate bill next month, and the House has already passed its bill, the PROSPER Act, which makes significant changes in student aid and postsecondary programs.

The proposal recommends changing a bipartisan bill to update the Perkins Act, which authorizes $1.1 billion in spending each year for career and technical education and training. The White House says the law "is in dire need of reform." The House passed legislation, H.R. 2353 (115), to overhaul the law last summer. However, the administration wants more changes. The plan calls for sending the majority of Perkins funding to high schools "to promote strategies such as apprenticeship, work-based learning, and dual-enrollment." The Senate Education committee has not released its bill to reauthorize Perkins, but it is a priority for this session.

ESSA Title I funding remains the same and Special Education and Rehabilitative Services get a small increase.

The proposal expands the Direct Student Services set-aside in Title I from three percent to five percent to encourage states to leverage more Title I funds to support public school choice options, including ensuring that disadvantaged students trapped in low-performing schools have the opportunity to transfer to another, higher-performing school or take advantage of advanced coursework or career preparation classes not available in their regular schools. 

School choice is a clear winner in the budget plan. It aims to invest $1 billion in "opportunity grants" to create a private school voucher program, and $500 million in charter school funding, a $160 million increase in the federal government's current investment in the schools. 

STEM education also gets a boost that includes $200 million in grants for science, technology, engineering, and math programs. 

Also, the budget emphasizes education to combat the opioid epidemic. The school climate grant program used as a vehicle to achieve those efforts is slashed from $67.5 million to $43 million including $1 million for technical assistance.

Adult Education is reduced by over $90 million.

The Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, which is the successor to the Investing in Innovation (i3) is budgeted at $180 million.

Some of the other education programs that are eliminated include: Full-Service Community Schools, Regional Education Laboratories, Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, Javits Gifted and Talented Education, Comprehensive Centers, Arts in Education, School Leader Recruitment and Support, and Teacher Quality Partnerships.

The total program dollars to be eliminated comes to $5.9 billion.

As was stated above, it is unlikely that much of what the president has proposed, especially the programs to be significantly cut or eliminated, will be enacted. With the new spending caps, both the House and Senate Appropriations committees have their work cut out for them.

It will be interesting to watch what transpires over the next several months as Congress tussles with both appropriations and individual programs, such as DACA.

You now can determine which actions and proposals are good, bad, and/or ugly.