If the March budget blueprint traced a shot across the bow of federal funding vehicles for STEM education and research, the full Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 presidential budget request takes direct aim. As with the first effort, most of the discharge is likely to miss. But the targeting could still leave a mark, even if just from the unsettling experience of seeing so many vital programs called out for cuts and even elimination.
What the cuts “mean”
Cuts to education spending start at over $9 billion in FY2018 and add up to triple digits over the next 10 years. The overarching theme of the request is to promote school choice options at the expense of public education funding.
In the preamble, these words lay out the values underlying the specific funding proposals:
“We need to return decisions regarding education back to the State and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.” (p. 2)
The specific efforts to advance this vision include creating more charter schools, researching and promoting voucher programs, and directing Title I funding to school choice efforts in low-income districts.
Among the programs to be eliminated are:
- Grants for “well-rounded education” (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, or Title IV, Part A of ESSA, which includes STEM education)
- Teacher training
- Afterschool programs
- NASA Office of Education
“Just” getting cut are Perkins grants for career and technical education, an activity the White House has specifically held up as exemplary federal education programming, down $168 million or 15 percent.
In STEM research fields, cuts to federally funded programs range from the low to high double figures.
Overall, these cuts reach an unprecedented level, almost 17 percent, or about $12.6 billion.
The budget request has earned nearly universal criticism within the education and research worlds. The critiques detonate under headlines like, “attack on America’s schools,” “cruel and unusual punishment,” and “assault on the American Dream.”
With details about the budget request so widely covered, we thought sampling some of the particular responses might help sketch out the environment in which debates about the proposals will take place, as the congressional appropriations process kicks into gear.
With friends like these …
Even those who generally support school choice efforts do not like the budget request.
- “[G]etting Washington involved in creating or subsidizing programs in ways that create red tape and headaches for folks in states and schools is generally counterproductive. But since all this is, is sketchy budget numbers in a budget that's dead on arrival, it's hard to know what, if anything, this adds up to.”
- “The fundamental problem is that this budget doesn't invest in anything other than choice. It's unbelievably bad policy … but it's also bad politics, because no reasonable person has ever supported public choice programs at the expense of everything else.”
- “Under the guise of empowering parents with school choice, the Trump Administration has proposed a federal budget that would hurt the very communities that have the most to gain from high-quality public school options… Public school choice cannot come at the expense of all public school families and students.”
From quarters already opposed to the Trump agenda, the responses are more heated.
- "This budget gets an 'F.' Period."
- "At a time when millions of job openings go unfilled every year due to shortages in the skilled, technical workforce, President Trump should double down on an investment in CTE, not propose drastic cuts."
- "Proposals for vouchers, tuition tax credits, and the Title I portability will not advance student learning or help close achievement and opportunity gaps. They will, however, effectively redirect taxpayers' dollars from public to private schools, effectively creating a second system of taxpayer-funded education."
“I don't know how we’ve gotten to a stage where anyone would consider anything like this... [T]his budget is put together on the basis of ideology and imaginary economics rather than hard facts about … what research is productive according to the agencies where the research is funded and done.”
Actual spending decisions
Now, as noted above, Congress starts in on committee-level debates about how much to appropriate for the various federal agencies under their jurisdiction.
One research advocate finds some utility in the radical nature of the Trump budget. “Thank goodness we don't expect Congress to take this budget seriously,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The sheer implausibility of the cuts, in this view, could free appropriators to negotiate a more reasonable, constructive compromise.
We’ll see. With debates on a debt ceiling hike, tax reform, and of course health care still looming, the middle ground in Congress will be shifting and hard to find.
Have we mentioned the value of contacting your Member of Congress in these days of volatile policy changes? And you can amplify your voice on these issues by sharing with interested colleagues or friends.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.
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Credits: S&T Agencies in the FY2018 Budget, courtesy of AAAS and the awesome @MattHourihan.