Federal Education Funding Progress – One Small Step at a Time

It seems only fitting that in my last official pre-retirement column, there’s some education funding news to share. On Feb 12, the president released his budget request for FY 2019. Last week, following a few hours of government shut down in the wee hours of Feb 9, Congress extended the current Continuing Resolution that is keeping the government funded to March 23. At the same time, it reached a bipartisan agreement designed to give everyone some breathing room – funding disaster relief for schools, raising the debt ceiling until March of next year, and dealing with the sequester by significantly raising the defense and non-defense discretionary spending caps for FY 2018 and FY 2019.

President Trump delivered the administration’s FY 2019 budget request this week asking in the end for $63.2 billion for the Department of Education. That’s a $3.6 billion cut – or 5.3% – from current department spending levels across PreK-12 and higher education (and a lot better than last year’s proposed 13.5% cut of $9.2 billion.) The budget request originally cut $7.1 billion from the Department of Education – or 10.5% – but some funds were restored in light of the Congress budget agreement. The major cuts in K-12 are a repeat of last year’s budget proposal – the elimination of almost all funding that support teacher and leader development including the more than $2 billion Title IIA program that supports professional development for teachers and the elimination of all funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (after-school programming) and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, the block grant program created in ESSA that offered states more flexibility and could be used could be used to provide a well-rounded education, improve access to technology and improve student health and safety. The FY 2019 proposal includes a request for $1 billion to support a school choice program.

I won’t go into more detail, because it’s Congress that has the final say on the budget. If you’re interested in details, New America has a good summary of the FY19 budget proposal for both higher ed and K-12. You can also check out Education Week’s K-12 blog and The 74’s coverage. What I came away with is that education is not a priority for this administration. Actually, it seems that most non-defense spending is seen as excessive. In the FY 19 budget addendumopens PDF file , OMB points out that while the Administration strongly supports the overall defense spending levels included in the bipartisan budget agreement, it does not believe the non-defense spending levels “comport with its vision for the proper role and size of the Federal Government.” The president really believes that non-defense spending needs to be sharply contained in order to increase defense spending while limiting the overall impact on the deficit.

There’s better news out of Congress. While they continue to wrestle with finalizing the FY2018 budget (now almost six months late), they have taken some very positive steps forward. In January, included in yet another CR extension, the Child Health Insurance program was extended for six years. The two-year through Sept 30, 2019) budget framework agreement that Congress reached last week included $2.7 billion in relief funding for schools and colleges affected by recent natural disasters, including schools in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The agreement calls for $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, doubling the amount the program receives to help states expand childcare for low-income families. It reauthorized funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for five years at $400 million per year.  Also included is an additional $4 billion in funding for higher education over the next two years, though details remain to be worked out.

As I read the various pieces of the FY 2019 budget request, I had to wonder if the Department of Education, which supplied the baseline numbers to OMB, understands some of its own programs. Sometimes a program slated for elimination is cited as ineffective, though there is scant evidence provided to support that claim. The most commonly cited justification for a budget cut or program elimination is that it’s duplicative, frequently pointing out that that the services supported can also be served by Title I. The latter is true, but I don’t see the states sending back unused Title I dollars. Just how are they supposed to make the Title I budget stretch to cover the professional development funded under Title IIA or the after-school and summer programming offered by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers? Where’s the extra money for art education or civics, much less for the administration’s stated priorities around STEM and CTE?  There’s only so much the states can do.

I’ll be back in two weeks with a final column devoted to reminiscing.