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Trump Budget Outline Reflects Support for Charter Schools


FILE - From left, school Principal Dana Bogle, first lady Melania Trump, Queen Rania of Jordan and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos talk with students during a science class at the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington, April 5, 2017.

President Donald Trump is proposing drastic cuts in many education programs but expansion of programs that favor charter schools, according to The Washington Post, which published a story earlier this month based on a leaked document.

The document is similar, however, to a preliminary budget outline, referred to as "the skinny budget," that the Trump administration released in March.

The newspaper said the proposed budget would cut $9.2 billion from the Department of Education, a 13.6 percent reduction from its current level.

Chad Miller, a former congressional staff member and current director of education policy for the American Action Forum, told VOA that Trump's proposed cuts to the Department of Education were no surprise, given the president's public statements.

FILE - Students and faculty attend a rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in support of charter schools, in Austin, April 26, 2017.
FILE - Students and faculty attend a rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in support of charter schools, in Austin, April 26, 2017.

"He is definitely looking at shrinking the footprint of the Department of Education," Miller said, "but along with the shrinking budget proposals, I think he has put forth proposals to spend money or target money elsewhere to produce more benefit for the students."

The big winner in the education budget would be charter schools, including those that are privately operated but get funds from states or local school districts. The charter school program, which provides incentives for implementing school choice in local districts, would receive $500 million, a 50 percent increase.

Interest from states

Clare McCann, senior policy analyst for the New America think tank in Washington, told VOA an increase in federal funds for charter schools could attract a lot of interest.

"If states find a pot of money that they can use for education, even if it is not for their traditional public schools, I think it is likely that they would flock to that," McCann said.

FILE - Protesters chant slogans outside the Success Academy charter school before House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arrived, May 9, 2017, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Ryan was visiting the school, which is run by an advocate who was considered for the post of U.S. secretary of education.
FILE - Protesters chant slogans outside the Success Academy charter school before House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arrived, May 9, 2017, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Ryan was visiting the school, which is run by an advocate who was considered for the post of U.S. secretary of education.

Critics say providing government funds to private charter schools could undermine the public school system and hurt schools serving poor neighborhoods. Supporters, however, say charter schools provide students from poor areas a better choice.

Both Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are champions of school-choice programs, but they also support local control and fewer federal restrictions.

The education budget would cut $700 million in grants that support disadvantaged students and nearly $500 million from a work-study program. It would also end the loan forgiveness program for graduates who work in public service jobs — people like social workers, rural doctors and teachers.

"On the whole, it may make it harder for borrowers who plan to go into public service to have their loans paid down quickly, but on the other hand, I think they did try to mitigate some of those issues with their income-based repayment plan proposal," McCann said.

Loan repayment plans

The proposed change to the income-based repayment plan would help undergraduate students pay off their loans more quickly. Currently, graduates can pay 10 percent of their income over a 20-year period and have the balance of their loans forgiven.

Under the Trump proposal, the payment would be increased to 12.5 percent of their income and the term would be shortened to 15 years.

FILE - President Donald Trump talks to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2017.
FILE - President Donald Trump talks to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2017.

In a speech scheduled for Monday, DeVos is expected to present details from the official education budget. After the president officially releases his overall budget, it will be up to Congress to either approve or modify what it contains.

McCann said some of the programs targeted for cuts have strong support from constituents, who could put pressure on lawmakers from both parties to either ignore or tone down some of the proposals, including the plan to cut the public service loan forgiveness program.

"Instead of eliminating public service loan forgiveness, they might limit the amount you can have forgiven, or make some tweaks as to who is eligible that would reduce the cost of the program," she said.

Changes inevitable

Because Republican majorities control both houses of Congress, McCann said it is likely lawmakers will try to give the president most of what he wants in the budget. However, he added, some changes are inevitable.

Miller, formerly a professional staff member on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said constituents who favor programs slated for elimination will defend them.

"It is really hard to eliminate a program from the federal budget," he said. "Certainly, you could see cuts from year to year, but to eliminate something like the after-school program would be a difficult challenge for the administration."

Miller said the same goes for the elimination of the public service loan forgiveness program and other proposed cuts. He also said the success of many of Trump's budget proposals would be tied to his success in bringing about tax reform in Congress.

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