Education department budget slashes funds for poor students

Low-income and disadvantaged students would lose after-school funding and staff to investigate civil rights matters.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attends a federalism event with governors in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP/ Andrew Harnik
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attends a federalism event with governors in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. CREDIT: AP/ Andrew Harnik

The White House is overwhelmed by leaks on the Russia investigation, but that hasn’t stopped it from conducting business as usual. For the Trump administration, that means reducing much needed resources for low-income people and their families.

The Washington Post obtained access to the full education budget proposed by the Trump administration and published many of its details on Wednesday. The budget prioritizes school choice and undermines or eliminates many of the funds poor students rely on to receive a high quality of education.

The budget would eliminate $1.2 billion for the the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides academic enrichment for kids during after-school programs and reaches 1.6 million kids. Many of the students who benefit from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program are poor and their families benefit from the economic stability that comes from an after-school program, as well as a safe place for children to stay after school.

Eight in 10 parents whose children are served by after-school programs say that those programs helped them keep their job. Low-income parents may not have the ability to pick a child up from school during their work day, and many low-wage workers don’t have a reliable work schedule at all.

According to the program’s 2014–2015 performance report, which included data from 30 states, 65.2 percent of teachers reported an improvement in homework completion and class participation for students served by the program. Fifty-six percent of teachers reported improvement in student behavior. Overall, the research on after-school programs’ effects on academic performance is mixed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable to students, said Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation whose work focuses on educational inequality.

“Their stated reason for cutting after-school programs is the idea that there isn’t evidence quickly boosting student achievement,” Potter said. “The evidence is mixed for student achievement, but there are other considerations, and community wraparound services are something where you wouldn’t expect to see results for a long period of time.”

The administration would not allocate money toward a fund that provides money for schools to teach Advanced Placement courses and provide mental health services, physical education, and science and engineering instruction. Although lawmakers OKed up to $1.65 billion for the fund, the Trump administration allocated nothing to the fund, according to The Washington Post.

“These cuts are particularly damaging for students from low-income families who need more resources than higher-income students to be successful,” said Scott Sargrad, managing director of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress. “They also are much more frequently in schools where they don’t have access to critical supports like school counselors or rigorous course options like AP.”

It would also cut $13 million for a program created in the Obama administration, Promise Neighborhoods, which supports community-driven efforts to improve education for children in distressed communities, and would eliminate 40 positions in the Office for Civil Rights.

The Office for Civil Rights investigates racially disparate student discipline and mistreatment of students with disabilities, and collects civil rights data, to name a few of its duties. OCR expanded its data collection during the Obama administration. Potter said data collection would be too inconsistent from state to state to be as helpful as federal data collection.

“These cuts have a real potential to weaken [civil rights] protections and it sends a message to that this administration has less interest in protecting the rights of students, because private schools using [school choice funds] typically have very little oversight,” Potter said.

“The Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Learning Centers were part of this idea of recognizing that communities of concentrated poverty need extra investment to have better outcomes and the push to defund comes partly from frustrations that should have been quicker or more dramatic,” Potter said. “But I think the real lesson is that poverty is a much larger problem than we think it is, and there is a bigger question of about integrating a community and its schools that needs to be part of the conversation.”