Betsy DeVos once said, “School choice increases equity for our nation’s students and families by placing power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” (Washington Post). Apparently the Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree as it overwhelmingly rejected the Secretary’s budget (29-2) last week. Not only did the committee reject the 14% cut in the budget, but members voted to increase spending by $29 million (Washington Post).
The budget included $2 billion for Title II, a federal teacher training program, which Trump proposed scrapping. The budget did not include a $1 billion increase Trump wanted in funding school choice programs There was a $25 million dollar increase in funding for charter schools, but that fell far short of the $167 million proposed (Washington Examiner).
The Trump administration wanted to cut $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which helps school districts cover the cost of after-school and summer-learning programs. That, too was rejected (EDWeek).
The administration had sought a $1 billion boost for the nearly $15 billion Title I program, the largest federal K-12 program, which is aimed at covering the cost of educating disadvantaged students. The Trump administration had wanted to use that increase to help districts create or expand public school choice programs. And it had hoped to use the Education Innovation and Research program to nurture private school choice.
The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches. It instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I, and $95 million for the research program, a slight cut from the current level of $100 million.
But importantly, the legislation wouldn’t give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team the authority to use that money for school choice. In fact, the committee said in language accompanying the bill that the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must get permission from Congress to create a school choice initiative with the funds (EDWeek).
Republicans and Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the bipartisan agreement isn’t the bill either side would have written on its own. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “While this budget is not what I would have proposed on my own, I am pleased we are continuing to invest in our students and educators and I will continue to hold Secretary DeVos accountable if she tries to undermine our public schools” (EDWeek).
This budged was lauded by teachers unions, state governors, and other educators across the country. There is still work to be done – especially when it comes to cutting funding for Pell Grants for college students, but this is a bipartisan step in the right direction.
Agreement on this budget is not expected until the end of year, but there is reason to hope Congress, perhaps, is doing their homework on such important issues in education.
These are my reflections for today.
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