Will Congress Follow Trump’s Lead, Cut Back on Invasive Education Programs?

July 17, 2017

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


In a disappointing move, the U.S. House Education Appropriations Subcommittee made only minor cuts to the overall budget for the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and to numerous invasive and ineffective programs in their bill writing session held last week. The subcommittee also increased funding for some very worrisome programs. This is quite disheartening given the hope engendered by the Trump administration budget blueprint.

The good news is that almost all of the requests for expansion of federal school choice programs — which have the strong potential to expand federal regulations like mandated Common Core-aligned testing to private schools or continued control of charter schools — were denied.

Here are some major highlights, according to Education Week:

House Budget Spends $6 Billion More than Trump Budget

The House cut the overall budget for the U.S Department of Education by a mere $2.4 billion for a total of $66 billion, compared to the Trump administration request of $9.2 billion for a total of $59 billion. With an enormous federal debt of $20 trillion, combined with the horrifically poor track record for USED, they could have done much better.

Cuts Barely Affect Disastrous “Parent Replacement Centers”

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLCs) — i.e. Parent Replacement Centers — were only cut by a paltry $200 million compared to the administration request of total elimination of the $1.2 billion boondoggle. The CLCs were benignly described as “after school programs” by Education Week, but these holdover initiatives from the Clinton era, dubbed “midnight basketball” by Rush Limbaugh, are much more:

Among the purposes of the program are to “ensure that children have the physical, social, and emotional well-being to come to school ready to engage in the learning process every day.”  The grantee is supposed to do a means assessment that “identifies the academic, physical, social, emotional, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents,” which will include all sorts of mental health data gathering. The list of services that can be offered is 23 items long and included mental health services and “other services consistent with this part.”

Besides being terribly ineffective, according to a national study performed by USED, there is evidence that these programs are actually harmful to behavior:

This study finds that elementary students who were randomly assigned to attend the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program were more likely to feel safe after school, no more likely to have higher academic achievement, no less likely to be in self-care, more likely to engage in some negative behaviors, and experience mixed effects on developmental outcomes relative to students who were not randomly assigned to attend the centers. [Emphasis added]

This is another piece of the dangerous social emotional learning  (SEL) push and will result in lots of sensitive data being collected on students and their families, harming privacy and freedom of conscience. It is also just another example of a terrible, unconstitutional, invasive program being continued despite clear evidence of ineffectiveness and harm.

Funding Increased for Invasive Mental Health and Data Mining Programs

Even worse is the increase in funding for the Title IV block grant that will expand multiple school based mental health and digital learning programs, neither of which are shown to be very effective and again require much data collection and/or subjective psychosocial monitoring with little privacy.

The administration wisely wanted to scrap that program altogether. Sadly, the House increased its funding from the current $400 million to $500 million.

Funding for the invasive federal research and student data mining apparatus of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) was also increased by $69 million by the subcommittee. This is quite disappointing since it was significantly cut for FY 2017 and because privacy is violated while research showing that ineffective and invasive programs should be eliminated is often ignored.

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The news is certainly not all bad, however. Here are a few highlights of important cuts and eliminations:

  • The invasive and ineffective Head Start program received $34 million less in funding compared to the continuing resolution of last summer funding fiscal year 2017.
  • The House has also decided not to spend any money on the Betsy DeVos/Jeb Bush-promoted private school choice initiative, despite an administration request of $250 million. Many major figures in the education freedom movement have written about the danger of private school choice programs requiring the Common Core-aligned tests to private school autonomy, including Phyllis Schlafly, the late, iconic president of Eagle Forum; Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute; and Education Liberty Watch’s Choice Freedom Grading scale.
  • In addition, although USED asked for $500 million to expand the charter school grant program, the subcommittee only gave them $370 million. Most states still require charter schools to administer the Common Core-aligned tests, which makes them less likely to innovate as an alternative for students in struggling schools nor to be a viable alternative, except in rare cases, to the standards and tests required in public schools. Florida just passed a bill that gives over $140 million more to charter schools while eliminating much accountability to parents and the public.
  • Both the House and the administration agreed on eliminating a federal teacher-training program.

The full House committee and the Senate committee still need to put forth their bills, in addition to having the bills undergo amendments and votes in their respective full chambers.

Both because of the enormous federal deficit and the terrible amount of federal overreach in education, the budget must be cut more forcefully. Congress should follow the president’s blueprint much more closely with regard to reductions and work much more carefully toward eliminating the entire department. Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute is quite right when he said:

This is a major reason it is essential to keep the goal of removing Washington from education squarely in view at all times. Fail to eliminate it completely – to make going to Washington for education cash nearly impossible – and bad programs will be kept, many that seem gone will grow back, and new ones will emerge.

If you don’t want to get stung by the jellyfish, you can’t just cut a few tentacles.


Dr. Karen Effrem is trained as a pediatrician and serves as president of Education Liberty Watch and the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.

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