Why Trump Is Right to Cut Federal Education Spending
President Trump’s proposed cuts to the federal education budget have elicited the usual howls of dismay and condemnation from the education establishment. Yet, drill down into the actual cuts and there are a lot of good reasons to put these programs on the chopping block.
Take, for example, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program, which established before- and after-school programs, plus summer programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes. President Trump’s budget eliminates this $1.2 billion program. In response, liberal defenders of federal government education spending went nuts.
The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) cited an Oregon after-school and summer-school program that it said would lose “enrichment opportunities that provide a well-rounded educational experience, including sports, art classes, off-site field trips, and vital summer school courses.” While offering flowery verbiage, the CAP failed to cite hard data to show that this program or CCLC programs overall are raising student outcomes.
The Trump administration points out that “overall program performance data show that the program is not achieving its goal of helping students, particularly those who attend low-performing schools, meet challenging State academic standards.”
In particular, the administration points out that “on average from 2013 to 2015, less than 20 percent of program participants improved from not proficient to proficient or above on State assessments in reading and mathematics.”
Furthermore, these programs have poor attendance, which results in poor student outcomes. The administration notes, “States reported that fewer than half of all students served (752,000 out of 1.8 million) attended programs for 30 days or more during the 2014-15 school year.
“These data,” concludes the administration, “strongly suggest that the 21st CCLC is not generating the benefits commensurate with an annual investment of more than $1 billion in limited Federal education funds.”
Previous evaluations of the 21st CCLC program found that the program was not just ineffective, but in some cases harmful. For instance, participating students were less likely to put effort into reading or English classes and were more likely to have behavior and discipline problems than similar students.
In addition to the 21st CCLC program, the Trump administration seeks to eliminate the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction (SEI) State Grants program. The program, also known at Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act, funds a wide range of activities. However, the majority of funds, 52 percent, goes to professional development training for teachers, while just 25 percent goes to reduce class sizes.
The liberal CAP worries about the effect of SEI elimination, not on student achievement, but on teacher salaries. The group conjures up the specter of “a loss of 40,000 teachers’ salaries.”
Yet, even the CAP admits that SEI funds “could be better spent” and that more effort “should be made to reform the program.” That admission is an understatement.
As the administration observes, “professional development, as currently provided, has shown limited impact on student achievement.” Indeed, evaluations funded by the U.S. Department of Education have found that professional development programs make little difference in improving 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].” Despite this failure, school districts spend on average $18,000 per teacher each year on professional development, which translates to $18 billion in total.
Indeed, if one looks at the 20 PreK-12 programs that the Trump administration seeks to eliminate, from the Alaska Native Education program to the Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants program to the School Leader and Recruitment program, the common theme is that evaluations and analyses show that these programs do not improve student achievement, have a limited impact or duplicate other government activities.
Thus the hysteria over defunding these programs is just that – hysteria. The world will not end and children will not receive a worse education if ineffective federal education programs are eliminated. If Republicans in Congress are serious about local control of education, then they must get serious about local dependence on federal dollars.
Lance Izumi is Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He served as a member of President Trump’s transition agency action team for education policy.