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Unrealistic Cuts in Funding Proposed in Administration’s FY 2021 Education Budget
Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation
President Donald Trump unveiled his FY 2021 Federal Budget request with virtually no support or interest among education groups or on Capitol Hill. The Education Department proposed a 10 percent funding cut, effectively replicating many of the reductions previously rejected by Congress. The most novel initiatives were two proposed “block grants” – one consolidating 29 federal K-12 education programs and one consolidating eight federal higher education programs. Neither proposal garnered any support among the affected education constituencies. The 53 percent increase proposed for the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) formula grant program was the sole budget recommendation receiving positive reviews after years of underfunding.
The Education Department’s “Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant” proposal would consolidate 29 federal education programs primarily from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into a single block grant allocated to states and then to school districts using the current ESEA Title I distribution formulas. State and local educational agencies would have the discretion to decide how to best use block grant funds, while continuing to meet “key accountability and reporting requirements aimed at protecting students, supporting meaningful school improvement efforts, and giving parents the information they need.” Current services targeted by federal law on students in high poverty schools, migrant students, neglected and delinquent students, English language learners, immigrant students, homeless students, rural students, gifted and talented students, and native Hawaiian and Alaskan students would no longer be mandated. The federal Charter School Program would also be folded into the K-12 Block Grant to the dismay of many conservative advocates and legislators. And adding insult to injury, the funding level for the consolidated K-12 Block Grant would be cut by 20 percent or $4.7 billion under the Administration’s budget request.
Like earlier Title I Portability proposals, the K-12 Block Grant would not ensure that current Title I schools or their funding levels would be protected. Instead, the proposal left open the possibility that current funding levels might be redistributed to other schools in higher income neighborhoods. Moreover, nothing in the Administration’s block grant proposal would prevent state or local funding levels from being offset against these flexible federal funds, thereby creating no “value-add” from the block grant allocation.
In addition, Impact Aid would be cut by 5 percent, IDEA would get less than a 1 percent increase, and adult education would be frozen.
Thankfully, the Education Department’s budget proposal and the Administration’s overall budget request are getting almost no support on Capitol Hill from either party. Therefore, extended hyperbole on the multiple flaws of the block grant and their budget cuts is not necessary. Unfortunately, the chances of reaching a bipartisan funding deal prior to the November election are most unlikely. This leaves school officials to hope for a “lame duck” session where a last-minute appropriations agreement might be reached sometime in December. Still, this might be preferable to leaving the standoff to the next Congress and a new Administration.