Thomas Massie from Kentucky introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to “abolish the Department of Education by December 2018.” Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, readily admits a lifelong dream of destroying public education by privatizing the educational system. Trump’s new budget proposal slashes funds from at least 20 programs dedicated to the education of American students. What does this mean for the future of America?
Free public education has been a jewel in the crown of American society, providing all children in the nation with the opportunity to learn. Trump’s budget slashes funding for the Department of Education by $9.2 billion (yes, billion with a “b”). This includes removing $2.4 billion in grants for teacher training, which provides needed funds for historically underpaid teachers to meet continuing education requirements. A brand new teacher with a bachelor’s degree working in Upshur County grosses about $2,500 per month, meaning that most teachers cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for classes that are required to maintain a teaching certificate.
These cuts not only impact public school teachers, but most students as well. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, that provides after-school programs serving 1.6 million students, most of whom are poor, would be eliminated. The stated reason for cutting this $1.2 billion program is that “the benefits to student achievement cannot be measured,” when in fact they have been shown through improved classroom performance. Data from 30 states participating in this program reports that 65 percent of teachers see an improvement in completion of homework and class participation. Fifty-six ,percent of teachers also report overall improvements in student behavior.
As an added benefit, 80 percent of the parents whose children participate in these programs are able to keep their jobs, as they may not otherwise be able to pick up their child from school. Cuts to these programs curiously seem to be an attack on public school teachers as well, by cutting money for required continuing education and after-school programs that improve classroom performance. Considering that the boards of education are among the top 10 employers in Upshur and Lewis counties, these cuts will create severe impacts on our communities.
In addition, at least 20 other programs that often benefit low-income, disadvantaged, or disabled students are on the chopping block. Programs expected to be eliminated include a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college, a $27 million arts education program, two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students totaling $65 million, and two international education and foreign language programs that require $72 million. The budget even proposes $12 million in cuts to the Special Olympics program. Additionally, the Trump budget allocates no money at all for educational initiatives that provide mental health services, anti-bullying education, physical education, advanced placement courses and science and engineering instruction, when these programs have been allotted $400 million in the past.
As college degrees have become a prerequisite for the average person to gain middle-class employment, Trump’s budget proposes $200 million in cuts to federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO and GEAR UP would be the first ones to go. TRIO includes eight programs that assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress from middle school to college degrees. GEAR UP is a program that helps low-income middle and high school students prepare for college.
The budget also eliminates Perkins loans, federally funded student loans with low interest rates that aid lower income students pursuing college. College work-study funding would be cut in half as well. Finally, the budget would cut the loan forgiveness program, instituted in 2007 as a way to encourage students enrolled in colleges or universities to enter careers in public service in exchange for assistance in paying for college. People who benefit from doctors, lawyers and social workers in many rural areas of West Virginia will no longer have access to high-quality providers that work in those places in order to help pay for their education. Let’s face it, these budget cuts wield a devastating blow to many of the very people who support the current administration.
The proposed budget prioritizes school choice, providing $500 million to charter schools, and $250 million in “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. Choice in schools sounds like a great idea, but the evidence does not support it. Studies by the Center for Public Education over two decades of school choice initiatives indicate that “school choices work for some students sometimes, are worse for some students sometimes, and are usually no better or worse than traditional public schools.”
West Virginia passed legislation allowing for charter schools in 2017. There are currently no charter schools to choose from, and few options for private schools. The budget cuts proposed by Trump will hurt places like West Virginia the most. Removing federal funding from our existing public schools in hopes that new and better charter or private schools will pop up in rural areas to benefit our most needy children is an unacceptable plan for the future of an already struggling state.
As with many government programs formed to benefit American citizens, the education system is not perfect. This does not mean that we should pull support from it. It is possible, even in today’s throw-away society, to make improvements to an already existing system rather than completely abandoning it. We need federally-funded public education for a fully-functioning, successful society that remains on the cutting edge of innovation, while continuing to provide for the basic rights of our citizens.
If we are to be competitive in the country and the world at large, we must continue to fund programs that benefit the poor and underserved. If Trump’s plan is to support the “forgotten people,” then providing federal funds for public education is not an option, it is an obligation.