Extra Education Funds Would Go to School Choice in Trump Budget

By Emily Wilkins

The Trump administration wants to cut financial aid for college students and assistance for teachers and after-school programs, but found extra funding for a potential school choice program after Congress raised spending limits.

The proposed $1 billion program would support both public and private school choice, including expanding programs at the state level, according to the White House budget request for fiscal 2019, released Feb. 12. A similar request made in the fiscal 2018 budget was widely ignored by lawmakers.

Overall, the Trump administration seeks a 5 percent cut, about $3.6 billion, for the Education Department. Initially the suggested reduction was almost double that, but Congress raised spending caps with a budget deal days before the budget was released. As a result, the White House allocated another $3.3 billion to the department.

From the additional funding, an extra $500 million is proposed for “Opportunity Grants,” a new grant program in the budget proposal meant to fund a variety of school choice initiatives, which was already funded at $500 million. Other programs that benefited include:

  •  Impact Aid, a program that helps fund students who live on federal land or in federal housing, received an additional $525 million in addition to the nearly $735 million they received in the budget. However, the budget proposes cutting $69 million to school districts that lose local tax revenue because part of their district is on federal land.
  •  $400 million would go to a group of programs, known as TRIO, for low-income, first-generation students from middle school through college. The program has a strong advocate in Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), head of the House subcommittee that deals with Education Department funding.
  •  $300 million would be used to expand a work-study program for college students.

Pell Grant Surplus

The additional funding would also put $1.6 billion into the Pell Grant surplus. While a student’s individual grant would not increase under the White House proposal, the grant’s surplus has been used to fund other programs.

The addition to the surplus might be needed. Under the budget, students in programs that offer a certificate or license, rather than a degree, would be able to receive a Pell Grant to help cover tuition.

Thousands of students are expected to be interested in the expanded program, acting Education Undersecretary James Manning said at a meeting with department employees, education advocates, and representatives for various education programs.

Breaking From House GOP

The proposal to expand Pell Grants is one of several initiatives in the Education Department’s budget that echoes the House GOP bill (H.R. 4508) to update higher education. Both the bill and the budget seek to streamline federal aid programs and eliminate loan forgiveness for nonprofit and public sector workers.

However, the House legislation would also eliminate loan forgiveness through a repayment program based on a borrower’s income. Meanwhile, the White House plan would allow the balance of loans to be forgiven after 15 years for undergraduates and 30 years for graduates.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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