White House budget proposal comes under fire from educators


State and education leaders are voicing widespread dismay about dramatic cuts proposed for a number of key education programs under the Trump administration’s federal budget request for fiscal 2018.

In addition to plans to shrink the Education Department, slash subsidies and support for student loans, and eliminate programs supporting literacy and community learning centers, the White House has proposed eliminating funding for a program that edtech leaders see as crucial to digital learning.

The budget, released Tuesday, calls for the elimination of Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grants. Also known as Title IV-Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the grant program was designed to help schools to promote student safety and health and to increase the effective use of technology.

When ESSA was enacted in 2015, Title IV-A was authorized at $1.65 billion but only $400 million was ultimately budgeted for fiscal 2017 via spending bills written by the Republican-led Congress. The prospects of those funds being eliminated altogether represents a setback for schools trying to advance digital learning and equitable access to technology, edtech leaders say.

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) said the decision not to fund the SSAE program “would deal a body blow to efforts of educators across the country to provide all students with the best education in the world. No money for Title IV, Part A would mean no dedicated investment for supporting teachers using technology to personalize learning, teach computer science or support high-quality online learning options. It means that once again, the future of our children is at risk because of shortsighted and uninformed policy decisions.”

“This budget takes away a vital funding source for schools, districts, and states,” said Tracy Weeks, executive director for the State Education Technology Directors Association.

“Learning in the 21st century means leveraging digital content, tools and applications to best meet each student’s needs. However, teachers need to understand how to effectively harness these resources to maximize student learning,” Weeks said. She questioned the logic of the decision, noting the relatively low level of funding in fiscal 2017 “is the rationale used by the president to justify elimination of the grant program.”

The rollback of national support for education programs was seen by others as counterproductive to the administration’s efforts to fortify America’s workforce.

“To grow America’s economy and society, we need to invest in our students and the educational opportunities that will make them thrive. This means supporting robust education networks, improved broadband access and impactful technology — all of which are becoming the backbone of modern, engaging learning environments,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium of School Network (CoSN), a leading professional organization of U.S. school CIOs and IT directors.

“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration’s proposed budget goes in the opposite direction with irresponsible cuts in the Education Department, and, in particular, eliminating funding for ESSA Title IV-A. As education has gone digital, technology is not just nice to have, but is essential to learning,” he said.

The elimination of Title IV-A is just part of a deeper set of cutbacks proposed for the Education Department. The White House wants to slash the department’s operating budget by $9 billion, or about 13 percent. The cuts are expected to put new pressures on states to fill the gap and force school districts to make difficult program choices.

The budget, for instance, proposes eliminating the Supporting Effective Instruction (SEI) State Grants program, which in 2017 provided $2.3 billion in funding to states to improve the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals and other school leaders. The White House said the funds “are poorly targeted and spread too thinly to have a meaningful impact on student outcomes.”

The budget “would hinder every state’s ability to deliver critical services and resources to their K-12 students,” argued a group of policy experts at the Center for American Progress. “Trump’s elimination of the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants and the 21st CCLC after-school program alone would mean a loss of nearly $3.6 billion in funding, impacting thousands of teachers and millions of students.”

The authors provided a state-by-state summary of how the proposed cuts would likely impact schools and programs.

The budget proposal is expected to face fierce opposition on Capitol Hill, even among some Republicans, who have balked at sweeping cuts to health care programs, foreign aid and other programs designed to help low-income families.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a vocal critic of the president’s policies on education, said the budget request makes it “very clear that President Trump doesn’t value students, workers, seniors, people with disabilities, or women,” and instead, “prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and biggest businesses over investments in the middle class and those who are working hard to join it.”