Trump Budget Proposal Cuts Work Study, Bolsters School Choice -- Update

By Tawnell D. Hobbs and Josh Mitchell Features Dow Jones Newswires

A significant cut to college work-study programs and elimination of funding for certain teacher training and after-school programs are among $9.2 billion in cuts proposed for the U.S. Department of Education, with some savings shifting to help fund school-choice initiatives.

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Details of the Trump administration's proposed 2018 budget were released Tuesday and show $59 billion in discretionary funding for education -- a 13.5% decrease.

The budget would bolster school choice through about $400 million for expansion of charter schools and vouchers for low-income students to attend private and religious schools. An additional $1 billion in Title 1 funding, typically targeted for schools with high-poverty rates, would be used for a new grant program focused on open-enrollment to allow students to attend the public school of their choice.

The administration's plan is to ramp up to eventually invest $20 billion annually for school choice.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are ardent supporters of school choice, which they say allows parents to play a greater role in the education of their children by providing options outside of their neighborhood public school. Mrs. DeVos has said it is time to reduce the role that the federal government plays by empowering parents and states.

"If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids," Mrs. DeVos said during a speech Monday night at a policy summit for the American Federation for Children, a group that advocates for school choice that she once chaired.

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"They'll be the ones who will have to explain to their constituent parents why they are denying their fundamental right to choose what type of education is best for their child," she said.

But as education choice is expanded, other programs would be eliminated or reduced under the budget. The plan proposes the elimination of $1.2 billion for before- and after-school and summer programs under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The Trump administration says the program has low participation and limited academic impact.

The budget would also eliminate about $2.3 billion for a grant program that supports instruction efforts, such as teachers' professional development and class-size reduction. The administration has said the grants are "poorly targeted and funds are spread too thinly to have a meaningfully impact on student outcomes."

Funding for special education and language instruction programs for English learners would be maintained at about the current level.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union of over 1 million members, and other teacher union leaders, decried the overall budget proposal. She called it "manifestly cruel to kids." Her concerns include the shifting of money to private-school options and elimination of funding for before- and after-school and summer-school programs.

"It is catastrophic to the public schools our most vulnerable and at-risk students attend, while being a windfall for those who want to profit off of kids or make education a commodity rather than a great equalizer and an anchor of democracy," Ms. Weingarten said.

The budget also would revamp federal aid programs for college and graduate students, leading to an estimated $143 billion in savings over 10 years. The administration said the changes would steer aid toward the neediest borrowers while reducing subsidies for those who are better off, such as graduate students.

Under the plan, student-loan borrowers would be able to link monthly payments to their incomes, as they do now, but under altered terms. They would devote 12.5% of their discretionary income, as defined by a formula, toward their student debt, up from 10% under current law. Undergraduates would have any remaining balance forgiven after 15 years, instead of the current 20. Graduate students would get forgiveness after 30 years, instead of the current 20 or 25.

The budget also would eliminate a program known as "public service loan forgiveness" that forgives balances, tax-free, after 10 years for workers in government and many nonprofit jobs. It would eliminate "subsidized Stafford" loans, which cover the interest on undergraduate loans for financially strapped borrowers while enrolled in school. And it would scale back "work study," a program that pays wages for students from poor families to work part-time while in school.

The administration proposes changing criteria for who qualifies for the work-study program, which would nearly halve annual federal funding to about $500 million. The program "includes outdated provisions...in determining student need that make it inefficient at allocating funds to the neediest students," the administration said. Under the new plan, some 333,000 students would receive work-study aid in 2018, compared with an estimated 634,000 this year.

The student-aid changes would affect borrowers who take out loans on or beyond July 1, 2018. Borrowers currently in repayment would continue to benefit from existing programs, including those already on track for public-service loan forgiveness, an Education Department official said.

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) criticized the plan, saying the budget "slashes investments that help students attend college and manage the crushing burden of massive debt."

The administration said the changes would make repaying student loans less complex by consolidating repayment options, and would better target aid toward the neediest borrowers.

Write to Tawnell D. Hobbs at Tawnell.Hobbs@wsj.com and Josh Mitchell at joshua.mitchell@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 23, 2017 16:57 ET (20:57 GMT)