President Trump’s proposed 2019 education budget, with its elimination of 29 ineffective or duplicative programs, drew howls from special-interest groups. Despite their hyperventilation, the president rightly focuses his spending priorities on the needs of students rather than on what the Washington spending lobby wants.
Trump proposes a 5 percent reduction in discretionary federal education spending below the level enacted last year, going from $66.8 billion down to $63.2 billion. American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten called the cuts “cruel,” and claimed that the administration “shows that they failed to learn anything.” Yet it is Weingarten and the guardians of the education status quo who have ignored all the evidence.
Take, for example, the two biggest programs on the president’s chopping block. The $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers, CCLC, program provides before- and after-school programs, plus summer programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes. Yet, as the Trump administration notes, “This program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.” As the administration has pointed out, “On average from 2013 to 2015, less than 20 percent of CCLC participants improved from not proficient to proficient or above on state assessments in reading and mathematics.”
Furthermore, CCLC programs have poor attendance, which results in poor student outcomes. The administration observes, “just two-fifths of program participants attend on a regular basis.” Also, a 2017 U.S. Government Accountability Office report analyzed data on the CCLC program and found “none of the 10 studies in our review observed consistently better scores in either math or reading in program participants’ state assessments.” For example, the GAO noted that a study of 58 CCLC programs in New York City “found no association with improved reading scores for students.” Worse, the GAO noted, “Texas’s [reading] evaluation showed lower reading scores among students who participated in the [CCLC] program compared to students who did not participate.”
Mark Dynarski, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who had previously directed national evaluations of CCLC, has concluded that billions of federal tax dollars have been spent “on a program that a preponderance of the evidence indicates doesn’t help students.”
The Trump administration also seeks to eliminate the $2 billion Supporting Effective Instruction state grants program, which funds professional development training for teachers and, to a much lesser extent, class-size reduction, and other activities.
The Trump administration has observed, “Professional development, as currently provided, has shown limited impact on student achievement.” Independent research comes to the same conclusion.
According to a 2016 report by the education research organization MDR EdNET, “The data also shows that neither teaching skills [nor] student outcomes are significantly improved by traditional [professional development].”
Instead of throwing good money after bad, Trump increases funding for charter schools, which are independent public schools established by parents, teachers, or community groups. A 2015 Stanford University study found that charter schools in urban areas across the country “provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to [traditional public schools].”
The president also proposes a new $1 billion opportunity grants program, which would allow states to apply for funding to provide scholarships to students from low-income families that could be used to transfer to a private school. Thus, instead of being trapped in a public-school failure factory, poor parents will have the opportunity to send their children to a better-performing private school.
A wealth of research shows that it’s not the amount of money that’s spent on education that matters, but how it is spent. Reductions for programs that don’t work and prioritization of choice programs will give parents and their children a path to a better education. Trump’s budget blueprint offers the chance to start to make education in America great again for all students.