The Trump Education Budget and Betsy DeVos vs. the Democrats

This is the Choice Media Education Report for Friday, May 26, 2017.

This was no typical week. It began Monday night with all eyes on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a speech that many believed would offer details of the Trump administration’s first-ever proposed education budget. Everyone waiting for the details — which is, of course, just a starting point for Congressional debate and horse-trading. But instead, her speech only sounded general themes with no dollar amounts spoken.

DeVos said “the president is proposing the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history,” but states can decide not to participate. Betsy said “ … If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part. They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it.”

Before her speech, the Indiana State Teachers Association or ISTA staged tepid protest, with a few dozen school choice opponents, and a speaker that criticized a federal voucher plan, despite one never having been proposed.

Then Tuesday, the entire Trump administration budget was released, including that of the education department. It had already been announced the education budget would be cut $9 billion or 13.5%. But a press release from ed.gov, offered many of new details that had been expected in the DeVos Speech, such as:

  • A billion extra dollars for the federal Title 1 program that goes to school districts with low-income children, on top of the current $15B.
  • An extra $167 million for federal charter school support
  • And $250 million given as federal awards for programs that provide families with private school tuition support.

Choice Media compiled reactions to the budget. 
From Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform who applauded that the budget did “not further federal programs that fail to advance or transform learning.”
To Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers who said the “budget proposal is manifestly cruel to kids. It is catastrophic to the public schools.”
To Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute who Tweeted, “Here’s my statement on the President’s FY 2018 budget request: Ha ha just kidding. People this thing ain’t going anywhere!”

Keep in mind, education in America is paid through a combination of federal, state and local funding — with the federal part making up on average about 12%, differing of course by state, district and year. But in general, a proposed federal cut of 13.5% to the piece that is only 12% of total funding, equates to a overall reduction of an average school district’s budget of 1.6%. We’ll leave it for each viewer decide whether this sounds “catastrophic” and “manifestly cruel” as stated by Ms. Weingarten.

Then on Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy Devos testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee, where she clashed with Democrats. Most notable was the exchange between Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts about the issue of whether private schools receiving government support should have the right to restrict admission to students who believe in their religious values, such as heterosexual lifestyles, or whether values restrictions would constitute unfair discrimination.

In state news, Texas House Speaker Dan Huberty, made his prediction from last year come true this week, that school choice was dead in the legislature. While the Texas Senate passed a bill to give an additional $530 million to traditional public schools, and in the same bill, also offer education savings accounts to parents of special needs students — Speaker Huberty in the House of Representatives took the position that they’re rather forgo the additional district money, if it also meant school choice for parents of special needs kids. Representative Ron Simmons, a Republican, says he regretted the actions of the his house leadership, who are also Republicans.

In local district news, the dizzying school finances of Chicago was in the headlines, as the school board unanimously authorized borrowing close to $900 million Wednesday, about $400 million in short term loans and about $500 million in long-term loans. Regarding the $500 million in new long-term debt, district finance chief Ron DeNard told boardmembers, “We’ll size the bond based on what our underwriters say the market capacity is.”

More big city spending, the New York City Controller this week said the Public Schools has no record of how it spent $347 million earmarked to upgrade internet service at middle schools. Controller Scott Stringer says the project was completed last year, but there are no documents showing how much it actually cost, project plans or progress reports, adding “The DOE is one of the least transparent agencies in the government. They’d rather hide everything than open up their books.”

Some quick notes for you: In Florida, the Jefferson County School Board hasn’t contracted a charter school to take over a school. No, they selected the Somerset Academy Charter Schools to take over the entire school district, with a new 5-year contract. 

An interesting San Diego lawsuit with parents suing to say that anti-bullying policies shouldn’t single out certain religious groups for special protection, after the district there implemented an anti-Islamaphobia program, that among other provisions, introduces lessons for kids about Islam.

And finally today, from the how smartphones are changing our lives file, a video from Georgia, where a teacher and so-called para-professional decided that whatever conversation might have preceded, the best course of action at this particular moment was to begin punching each other in front of a classroom full of kids.

Thanks for watching this Memorial Day weekend edition of the Choice Media Education Report. Happy grilling.

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