Jacques: DeVos promotes K-12 block grants, school choice in budget
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is furthering her self-proclaimed mission of working herself out of a job.
As part of the Trump administration’s 2021 budget, released today, DeVos is laying out several ways to get the federal government less involved in governing education. Given the great cost to run the U.S. Education Department — and the lack of results — DeVos’ aim is a worthy one.
Since its inception 40 years ago, the department has consumed $2 trillion from taxpayers, while student performance has flat-lined.
It has been successful, however, in creating a huge bureaucracy that has ultimately caused headaches for schools as they jump through hoops to receive federal funding, which is typically about 10% of state education budgets.
This is part of the problem DeVos seeks to address.
The latest education budget, as have previous ones under President Donald Trump, seeks to trim department expenses. The $66.6 billion Education Department budget proposal is a $6 billion cut from current levels.
The department is calling the president’s budget request a “transformative, student-first budget (that) prioritizes improving student achievement, reducing the outsized federal role in education, and returning control over education decisions to whom it belongs — state and local leaders, teachers, parents and students.”
The budget proposal focuses on:
►Empowering states to meet the needs of students: The budget calls for consolidating nearly all K-12 formula and competitive grant programs into one $19.4 billion program called the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant.
This would be a significant change to how money is currently allocated, and the department says it would give more control to the states and school districts by allowing them to “spend federal funds the way they see fit to best support their most disadvantaged students.”
►Expanding education freedom for students: Education Freedom Scholarships would “provide up to $5 billion in additional education funding to help more than 1 million students across the country find their education fit,” the department states. This is a program first proposed a year ago, and one which is a top priority for DeVos, a huge proponent of school choice. Under the plan, states could create tax credit scholarships, funded by private donations.
Trump highlighted the proposal in the State of the Union address last week, calling attention to Janiyah Davis, a Philadelphia student who had been on the waitlist for a similar program in her state. During the speech, Trump informed her she would be receiving a scholarship to attend the school of her choice. That scholarship, it turns out, will be funded by DeVos who donates her federal salary to charity each year.
►Transforming federal student aid: DeVos first discussed her idea of making Federal Student Aid a standalone government entity at a speech in December. That idea is continued in the budget, which requests “continued modernization of all aspects of student aid, including a call for an evaluation of FSA as a separate organization, with reformed governance.”
In addition, the budget proposes consolidating the federal student loan and student loan repayment programs, “establishing reasonable annual and lifetime limits on those loans, and providing higher education institutions more flexibility to help students avoid overborrowing.”
►Increasing career and technical education opportunities for students: This is an area of the budget that seeks to increase federal involvement. The proposal would significantly hike funding by $900 million for career and technical education.
While there is a good case to be made for expanding skilled trades programs, this is better handled at the state level. And given the quickly skyrocketing federal debt, the government must trim costs everywhere it can.
Of course, Congress has to sign on to the budget, which House Democrats are not likely to do. But even Democrats should appreciate what DeVos is trying to do with the block grants. That aspect of her proposal deserves the most attention.