The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is greatly concerned with and strongly opposed to the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Just a few months ago, federal lawmakers in both parties recognized the need to renew the investment in public schools. This proposed budget runs directly counter to the bipartisan budget deal that passed in December. There is absolutely no reason to suddenly reverse the positive gains for public education that members of Congress agreed were overdue.
The Trump administration proposal lays out the wrong priorities to educate all schoolchildren, and it would hinder the ability of more than 50 million students in public schools to compete for jobs against their peers around the world.
The public does not want the federal government to cut funds to public schools or divert them to non-public schools. Voters spoke clearly in a recent national poll commissioned by the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC), which sampled 1,000 likely voters. The poll found overwhelming support for increases to public school funding—not steep cuts. Respondents also unequivocally want public funds to stay in public schools.
The administration’s proposed funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is essentially cutting support to students who require extra help to succeed in school. A $100 million increase is a good soundbite, but the reality is that the proposed funding fails to keep pace with the number of students served by IDEA, which has increased to 7.4 million students. In the 2021 budget, the amount allocated for IDEA would only cover approximately 13% of the costs associated with serving IDEA students, despite the federal government’s original promise to fund the act at 40%. So, the actual funding in 2021 would be a 1% cut from the current level.
Another significant concern with the administration’s proposed FY 2021 budget is the formation of block grants. Consolidating 29 federal elementary and secondary education programs and cutting total funding for those programs by $4.8 billion (20%) into a single block grant program, called the “Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant,” could have a damaging impact on millions of students, as it puts the support they receive at risk. While spending flexibility is helpful, this block grant proposal is a way to mask a steep budget cut and shift the federal government’s burden to the states to continue supporting needed federal initiatives in public schools. If the initiative were implemented, state and local education programs would lose flexibility due to the steep cut. As a result, education programs would likely battle each other for a smaller share of funds for programs essential to learning for students in every state.
NSBA also strongly opposes the proposal to eliminate the Public Loan Forgiveness program, which helps school districts attract and retain effective teachers.
Under the guise of “educational freedom scholarships,” the administration continues its attempt to transfer resources from public schools to private institutions. The proposed Education Freedom Scholarships would provide up to a $5 billion annual federal tax credit for volunteer donations to state-based scholarship programs that would primarily benefit private enterprises and schools that are not accountable to taxpayers at the expense of millions of students.
With significant changes taking place in public schools, an abundance of choice within schools and school districts and with the continued health of the economy, there is no better time to invest in students and the future of the country. Students deserve locally accountable leadership, good teachers, safe schools that are designed to optimize learning and resources needed to succeed. The administration’s proposed education budget falls well short of a passing grade on these important matters. Further, the NSABC poll found that 64% of likely voters think funding for public schools should be increased, while 73% agree that funds for public schools should not be diverted to fund private, religious and home school education as being proposed in the Education Freedom Scholarships program.
We urge Congress to reject the administration’s proposed FY 2021 budget because it a significant step backwards. The federal government should focus on investing in public education by providing states and local agencies with the funds they need to ensure that every child has access to an excellent and equitable education.
Statement by NSBA Executive Director & CEO Thomas J. Gentzel.