Union: Trump plan takes ‘cleaver’ to public schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which includes cuts to public education, misses the mark by a long shot, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

“This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten during a phone press conference Thursday. “These are the biggest cuts to the education budget we can recall — even during times of great fiscal stress. Only someone who doesn’t know what public schools do and what kids need would contemplate or countenance these kinds of cuts.”

She said the budget also includes both “backdoor and front-door voucher programs that further the Trump administration’s ideological crusade against public education.”

She continued, saying “The Title I ‘portability’ included is a backdoor voucher scheme that was expressly rejected in the recently enacted bipartisan federal education law.”

The budget for the U.S. Department of Education, in part, eliminates or reduces more than 20 categorical programs that it claims do not address national needs, or duplicates other programs, or “are more appropriately supported with state, local, or private funds, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs.”

But it also claims to add millions to education.

The budget said it increases investments in public and private schools of choice by $1.4 billion compared to the 2017 level, ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion, and an estimated $100 billion including matching state and local funds. This additional investment in 2018 includes a $168 million increase for charter schools and $250 million for a new private schools of choice program.

Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley said Congress ultimately will be responsible for writing and passing a budget and appropriations bills for the 2018 fiscal year.

He said the president’s budget proposes a 13.5 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Education.

We are concerned about the specific cuts to federal funds for teacher training and supports, and important after-school programming for at-risk children,” he said. “As the budget works its way through Congress, we would hope those funds will be maintained, and that any additional funding steered toward school choice would require that those choices for Michigan families be quality choices, with school operators that have proven track records of success. In addition, we are eager to see the impact that proposed changes to Title I funding will have on our public schools.”

Madison Public Schools superintendent Randy Speck said the budget targets students who have the greatest needs.

“Billions of dollars are eliminated for reading instruction, at-risk funding and before- and after-school care,” he said. “There is plenty of money that could be invested and accountability and results should be required, but the President is choosing to look at different priorities. "

Clarkston Community Schools District superintendent Rod Rock expressed concern about underfunding for special education services.

“The new president has suggested an increase by $1.4 billion in federal funding for private and charter school choice,” Rock said. “Private schools are not included under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) and are not required to provide special education services. Similarly, many charter schools do not have systems in place to support special education students.”

Weingarten added Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ name to the conversation.

“These cuts, if enacted, will turn into real-life effects on kids,” she said. “They do what we feared would happen when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was nominated: defund public schools with the aim of destabilizing and destroying them.”

Ferndale Public Schools spokesman Bill Good said it is hard to determine the trickle-down effect of the cuts and how they will impact his district.

“For example, where it says there will be a $1 billion increase for Title I, dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables federal, state, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice, what does that mean for Ferndale schools?” Good said.

Weingarten also said by slashing community schools, professional development and class-size funding, they are cutting what works to help students succeed.

“Professional development is critical for educators to be able to refine their craft and move new ideas and curriculum in the classroom — just like any corporation would need to train people when implementing a new product or strategy.

And cuts to the Labor Department budget for training will jeopardize ensuring workers have the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

She added, “When DeVos was nominated, we warned that she would use her office to wage an ideological attack against public education, and this budget is the latest confirmation of her efforts to rob the future to push failed voucher strategies.”

Weingarten said the AFT is looking into a legal challenge.

“We are considering going to the courts to try to seek some fairness, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.


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