President Trump’s 2020 Budget: The Good and Bad News for Education

March 26, 2019

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


As discussed for the last two budget cycles (here and here) President Trump is working to keep his 2016 campaign promise to cut the size and scope of the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Here is some of the good, bad and ugly of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget:

The Good News

  • The 2020 budget seeks to cut overall USED spending by $7.1 billion or ten percent. That is consistent with his previous budgets and a good start on what is a big job. Basically level funding is maintained for both Title I, the main federal education program for poor students in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and for the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
  • Within that 10 percent, for a total of $6.7 billion, the proposed budget eliminates “funding for 29 programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, are ineffective, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds.”
  • Among those 29 programs proposed for elimination are several that we have followed over the years that are particularly invasive:
    • 21st Century Community Learning Centers — Besides being terribly ineffective, according to a national study performed by USED, there is evidence that these programs are actually harmful to behavior.
    • Safe and Supportive Schools Program — This $1.17 billion program is new since ESSA was passed in 2015 and contains many social and emotional learning programs with all of their subjectivity and data collection with the potential to live forever in the state longitudinal systems (SLDS), whether the data is accurate or not.
    • State Longitudinal Data Systems — Given the porousness of student data protections due to the age and weakness of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) already with rampant sharing of very sensitive student and family data, including SEL data,  with government agencies, corporations, and researchers, all without parental consent, this is possibly the best cut on the list.
    • The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) that oversees the SLDS and all other federal education data mining is taking a 15 percent cut in this budget.
    • Regional Education Laboratories — These education research centers have long been petri dishes for failed progressive policies that, as admitted by the head of one regional lab back in 1989, are seeking “…the total restructuring of society…”
    • Ready to Learn Television — This is further government supplementation of public broadcasting, which is already biased toward the left end of the political spectrum to produce government approved children’s programming that has contained many topics controversial among adults.

The Bad (or Less than Ideal) News

  • There is a push to use the savings from the eliminated or reduced funding to promote public and private school choice, a big priority for both the President and Secretary DeVos — but which has detractors on all points on the political spectrum. The significant problems with federal school choice from a conservative perspective, particularly the strong potential for imposing state tests and therefore the state standards, were discussed by Joy Pullman at The Federalist and by me a few weeks ago.
  • The budget calls for $53.4 million for school climate grants, including tiered programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), that begins with monitoring the attitudes and behaviors of the entire student population and advances toward intensified “interventions” as the staff determines children need more “help.” PBIS was originally included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to try to resolve academic or mental/SEL issues of “at-risk” students short of a full special-education referral, but ESSA expanded the program school-wide. Despite claims by proponents that PBIS is “evidence based” or “research based,” the federal PBIS technical support center admits that “school-wide PBIS is in its infancy” and that all of PBIS is quite experimental. In other words, there are no controlled trials involving large numbers of students to know if the concept really works. Nevertheless, PBIS is embraced uncritically in the public-education realm; even the federal School Safety Commission has recommended it as a means to prevent school violence. The literature on PBIS includes little to no discussion of how the universal or at-risk behaviors are chosen; what sensitive, personally identifiable information is collected on children for the various tiers; how children’s attitudes, values, and beliefs are modified; and what outcome data is included in children’s lifelong data dossiers (more about this below). Also, the phrase “parental consent” rarely, if ever, appears on PBIS explanatory websites.
  • Increased spending on school-based mental health —
    “The budget proposes $15 million in continuation award funding for Mental Health Demonstration Grants to be awarded under a 2019 planned competition that is expected to address a priority in Congressional report language on addressing shortages of mental health professionals in schools as well as other mental health-related recommendations included in the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety.”

    While it may be helpful to increase training of professionals to help children with genuine mental health need instead of training overburdened and unqualified school personnel to recognize and help mental health issues in their students, the risks of over-diagnosis and over-treatment with ineffective and or dangerous medications are very real. (A new study documenting how drugs used to treat ADHD can also cause psychosis was just published.) Jane Robbins and I extensively discussed the problems with these programs in our Pioneer Institute white paper on social emotional learning (SEL), in stand-alone articles here and here, and in comments submitted to the Federal Commission on School Safety.

  • Head Start is level-funded this year, which is an improvement over the proposed increase of last year. However, given all of the data from the federal government itself showing the abject failure of this program, they should be working to significantly cut or eliminate it.
  • Career and technical education has received an overall 1 percent increase, with national programs for STEM receiving a 169 percent increase and state programs at level funding. As has been explained here and here, the efforts under this administration to expand career and technical education (CTE) and school-to-work programs organizes education as mere career preparation and reduces what is taught and tested to what can be digitized. This is a very minimalist view of education and has failed historically.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately for the great cuts in this budget and fortunately for the bad items, if Congress, even under total Republican control, was unable or unwilling to pass most of the President’s budget request, it is highly unlikely to happen now, given that Democrats control the U.S. House. However, with the 2020 elections upcoming, there is a chance that if we unite, we can make our voices heard on these vital issues of academic excellence, parental autonomy, and privacy. Stay tuned!


Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

Archive: Karen R. Effrem, MD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *