Senate panel rejects Trump’s blueprint for cuts, vouchers

Our counterparts on the national AFT communications and legislative teams are keeping careful track of developments in Congress affecting funding for education. School districts in Texas and across the United States depend on federal funding for a significant part of their budgets. This year the flow of federal aid has been threatened by budget proposals from the Trump administration to cut $9 billion and divert billions more into vouchers and other forms of privatization. Earlier this year a House budget-writing panel rejected the voucher/privatization push, and now our AFT colleagues report that a Senate panel has rejected the Trump administration’s approach to the education budget even more broadly. Here’s the latest:

A key Senate panel voted unanimously on September 6 to maintain funding for teacher training, class-size reductions, and community and after-school programs—vital federal resources that were targeted for elimination under the budget plan submitted this year by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Senators also rejected the White House’s efforts to divert scarce resources into a reckless ramp-up of school choice.

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2018 funding bill that maintains funding at current levels for educator training and effectiveness through Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants ($2.1 billion) and for after-school and summer programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers ($1.2 billion). Funding for both had been eliminated in the Trump-DeVos budget.

Lawmakers also took aim at the White House’s request to plow billions into school choice. The markup approved by the Senate subcommittee rejects DeVos’ plan to divert $1 billion from Title I into school choice and checks the White House’s efforts to transform funding for education research and development into an incubator for choice and vouchers. “The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches,” Education Week reportsThe Senate’s markup “instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I.” Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have sided with the White House on many drastic cuts that steer a reckless course for public schools under Trump and DeVos.

Although the budget fight remains in early rounds, there is no doubt that the vote in the Senate is a big deal, AFT President Randi Weingarten says. “Senators clearly responded to the calls, letters, meetings, tweets and other efforts by communities across the country to demand lawmakers reject these cruel cuts to the public schools that 90 percent of America’s children attend and to programs that make a profound difference in the lives of kids,” she says. “While this will probably not deter DeVos’ crusade to defund and privatize public education, the senators made clear the importance of investing in our public schools.”

The bill also would increase the maximum Pell Grant to $6,020. Other programs escaping cuts under the Senate panel’s bill include: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants to states (maintained at $12 billion), Career and Technical Education State Grants ($1.1 billion), Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ($733 million), Federal Work-Study ($990 million) and Head Start ($9.3 billion).

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