Trump’s Budget Cuts Fed Role in Education — But Will Congress Follow His Lead?

February 16, 2018

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 education budget contains many reductions and eliminations that should give hope to parents and privacy advocates. But sadly, congressional appropriators seem almost as genetically incapable of eliminating ineffective, invasive, or harmful programs — despite mountains of data clearly documenting these programs’ uselessness — as they are of exerting any sort of fiscal discipline, as documented by the budget deal discussed last week that will only increase the $21 trillion deficit. So unfortunately, this budget will likely be dead on arrival in Congress unless citizens act.

Here are some highlights that activists can use as starting points when trying to recommend cuts to their members of Congress or candidates:

Overall Spending

Instead of trying to cut the federal budget by 13 percent for FY 2018, this budget reduces education by a much more modest 5 percent. 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. The push is to use the savings from the eliminated or reduced funding to push 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 and will be discussed below.

Data Mining, Privacy, and Research

The great news in this area is that the President’s budget completely eliminates funding for the state longitudinal data systems that have been around since the 2002 passage of the Education Sciences Reform Act, forming a de facto national database. These databases are now acting as a repository Common Core testing data, social emotional profiling data, all of the data from the invasive corporate education apps, and the constant assessment data of the machine-based training of competency-based education pilot programs.

This, in my view, is the most important education budget item to push with your members of Congress. Tell them that even if they ignore every other recommendation in this education budget, if they would do this one thing, they would be heroes in your eyes.

The 2019 budget also significantly decreases the entire budget of the Institute of Education Sciences, the main education data-mining arm of the federal government. This is also a very good idea, as much of the research is biased towards preset, usually progressive or liberal conclusions, and any research showing failure of cherished federal programs is ignored. The less data they are able to collect at the federal level, the better for protecting student and family privacy and stopping the cancerous spread of bad programs.

Likewise and wonderfully, funding for the regional education laboratories has been zeroed out. 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…”

Preschool

While it is disappointing that there is an increase of $85 million for the disastrously failed Head Start program, especially after a cut was recommended last year, it is wonderful to see the complete elimination of the Preschool Development Grants funded in the 2015 ESSA, discussed here and here. This should be a no-brainer given that the program has not yet been implemented and that preschool in general, just like Head Start, is not effective and can actually cause academic and emotional harm. In addition, there is significant expansion of federal control of preschool in these grants. We strongly agree that this program should die in the cradle (pun intended).

Although this is another very important cut for which to advocate, it will be very difficult given that this program was developed by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate’s education committee.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

As in last year’s budget, this also invasive and ineffective after school program costing over $1 billion was eliminated for 2019. However, congressional progressives in both parties are likely to ignore the recommendation as they did last year.

Mental Health in Schools

As we discussed last week regarding the budget deal, there was a $6 billion increase to “fight against the opioid and mental health crises.” There is also an enormous push in ESSA to expand mental health screening by already overburdened teachers and subjective, feelings-based social emotional learning.

The call to increase mental health funding — as well as gun control — will no doubt increase after the tragic Florida murder of 17 students and teachers in Broward County, Fla., this week by a very troubled and expelled former student who may have already been on psychiatric drugs. Violence and suicide are common known side effects of many psychiatric drugs, and psychiatric drug use is linked to almost every school and mass shooting (see here also). Sadly, neither mental screening nor current mental health treatments, especially for young people, are effective or very safe. Moreover, according to psychiatric experts, psychological screening dossiers are subjectively compiled, are useless for predicting psychosis and violence, and can lead to treatments with medications that cause not only suicide and violence but also many other harmful, sometimes fatal, side effects. More will be forthcoming on this vital topic soon.

Some Concerns

Although there are many great things about the Trump budget, it is far from perfect. The most concerning issue is the effort to direct over $1 billion towards public and private school choice and charter schools. We have written much about the dangers of the potential imposition of Common Core and other government control, including data collection, over private and home schools via these programs and the ineffectiveness, with notable exceptions, of most charter schools.

Additionally, although eliminated in the FY 2019 budget, the addendum due to the budget deal does include another year of funding for the invasive and ineffective home visiting programs.

Given the acute dangers to academic excellence, privacy, and parental autonomy these programs cause, and even though Congress ignores evidence and deficit spends, we must fight for these cuts during this election year. Even Secretary DeVos agrees that many federal education programs have not been at all helpful. This budget may be a reflection of this admission and the ideas put forth in her encouraging speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thank you for your dedication and vigilance. Please gird for battle, and stay tuned!

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore


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.

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