03/13/2019

Education on the chopping block: Trump proposes $7 billion cut

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President Trump’s new budget proposal sends a clear signal: He and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will continue to abandon public schools and the families they serve in favor of tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. Trump’s budget would ax $7.1 billion from education funding and, in a monumental blow to affordable healthcare, would eliminate more than a trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid.

“This budget doesn’t fund the future,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten, referring to the AFT’s new initiative, Fund Our Future. “It does quite the opposite, forfeiting children by yet again cutting the education budget while safeguarding the tax cuts given to the wealthy last year.”

Trump’s budget would undo significant efforts to making public education more equitable and inclusive. Higher education would be hit especially hard by reducing federal student loan programs by $207 billion in the next 10 years. The need for these programs is urgent, as the popularity and impact of the AFT’s student debt clinics demonstrate.

In higher education, Trump’s budget would:

  • Eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, stealing away the opportunity for teachers and other public workers to ease the $1.5 trillion student loan debt they collectively hold, and damaging an important incentive program for public service careers.
  • Eliminate subsidized student loans.
  • Freeze the maximum Pell Grant, one of the best pathways to college for low-income students, and open Pell Grants to “high-quality” short-term programs.
  • Cut Federal Work-Study funds by more than 55 percent.
  • Initiate deep cuts in academic research funding.

In K-12 schools, the budget would:

  • Eliminate after-school and summer programs for K-12 students in high-poverty areas.
  • Cut Title II teacher development grants.
  • Cut Title IV grants for academic enrichment.
  • Cut millions from community schools, literacy programs, arts in education and even Special Olympics.

Instead of defending school funding, DeVos is applauding this proposal as a wise use of taxpayer dollars and a model for efficiency. It’s no wonder: Even as it guts programs for the public good, it props up privatization, DeVos’ pet project. Trump would give up to $5 billion a year in new tax credits to individuals or businesses that donate to scholarships that would pay for private school tuition, siphoning funding away from essential programs in more accessible and equitable public schools.

The AFT’s Fund Our Future campaign is fighting this misguided agenda with a national effort to advocate for public education through financial aid for low-income college students, infrastructure repairs to crumbling public schools, full funding for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, debt relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and more. Communities are rallying behind the initiative, using protests, legislative campaigns, town hall meetings and social media to send a clear message: They don’t buy the scarcity narrative the federal government is trying to sell them, and they want and deserve fully funded schools for their children.

In addition to attacking public education, Trump would also slash other public services. He proposes:

  • An $845 billion cut to Medicare.
  • A $241 billion cut to Medicaid.
  • A $220 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known informally as food stamps.

The drastic cuts to healthcare programs for seniors and low-income families would not only affect individuals who depend on them, they would squeeze healthcare facilities and medical and nursing staff that are already dealing with diminishing resources. They will “make seniors and families sicker and poorer,” says Weingarten, who is urging members to sign the AFT-endorsed petition to pass Medicare for All. 

Weingarten says Public Service Loan Forgiveness should be expanded, not slashed, and decries diverting funds to “school choice” and private schools. “Rather than increase funding for kids with special needs or for those who live below the poverty line in both rural and urban America, or address the issues raised in their own safety report, DeVos once again seeks to divert funding for private purposes in the name of ‘choice,’” she says. “However, if they listened to parents, they would hear that, overwhelmingly, parents want well-funded public schools as their choice.”

They’ve certainly had the opportunity to hear those parents’ voices, lifted up with overwhelming support from their communities and from the union, at teacher strikes that have swept the nation—from early actions in West Virginia to more recent ones in Los Angeles. “By assaulting public education again, Trump and DeVos are defying the will of parents, educators and the American people who continue to march, rally and even strike to secure the investment our children and their public schools desperately need,” says Weingarten. “It’s time to fund our future, and this movement will not rest until we get the investment in what our children, all children, need—so they can not simply dream their dreams but achieve them.”

[Virginia Myers]