Alison Yin for EdSource
University of California at Berkeley students in Doe Library

The Trump White House Monday previewed its federal budget for the next fiscal year, proposing $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, including large reductions for K-12 and higher education programs. The budget also signals a philosophical pivot in how the government spends education dollars on K-12 programs — emphasizing more school choice.

The FY 2018 $4.1 trillion spending plan that was sent to Capital Hill proposes to eliminate a program that forgives the debts of college-loan borrowers after 10 years if they work in the public sector. The White House estimates cutting the program would save the federal government $27.4 billion after 10 years.

President Donald Trump also wants to get rid of a program in which low-income student borrowers have their interest payments paid by the government while they’re enrolled in college. Eliminating that program would lead to savings of $38 billion over 10 years, according to the budget summary.

The White House estimates its plan to fold the various loan repayment programs into one would garner savings of $76 billion over 10 years. Right now borrowers of federal undergraduate loans can repay their loans based on how much they earn, with payments at either 10 or 15 percent of income based on the program. The repayment period ranges from 20 to 25 years. The proposed plan would cap repayments at 12.5 percent and limit the repayment period to 15 years.

All told, the cuts to higher-education spending would generate $143 billion over 10 years, according to a summary of the proposed budget.

More details about the budget’s impact on federal education spending will become available Tuesday.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget told reporters Monday that the White House’s budget signals an overhaul of how the government should view public spending. “We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” he said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off of those programs and get back in charge of their own lives.”

Mulvaney also outlined a new program for working parents. At a cost of $25 billion over 10 years, the White House wants to offer paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Details are scant, but the administration views the effort as a way to boost the employment rates of adults currently out of work or seeking work. That, in turn, will raise the level of economic activity in the country, Mulvaney said. The budget’s stated goal is for the nation’s Gross Domestic Product to hit 3 percent growth. Since 2010 the economy grew at a more sluggish 2.1 percent per year, on average. Higher growth leads to more revenues for the government, he noted.

Paid parental leave “goes right to the heart of the matter on 3 percent growth,” said Mulvaney. “We try and create the environment where people are more comfortable going back to work and staying at work, knowing that if they do have a child, they’ll be able to spend time with that child under the paid parental leave program.” The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has advocated for parental leave.

Other key aspects of the budgets expected to be released Tuesday include details on a $250 million program to study and expand school vouchers and a 50 percent increase in the federal government’s block grant program for charter schools.

As The Washington Post reported last week, the White House seeks to use $1 billion in additional Title 1 funds intended for low-income students to encourage school districts to allow students to enroll in their schools even if they don’t live in the districts’ boundaries.

In a speech Monday evening in Indianapolis, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos once again argued for offering “the widest number of quality options to every family and every child,” regardless of the kind of school a child attends.

She said that Trump “is proposing the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history,” but she did not provide any additional details of what that plan consists of. She appeared to be referring to the skeletal plan Trump described in the summary of his 2017-18 budget  released in March.

But she did say that “if a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part.” That criticism appeared to be directed at states like California that have a history of opposing the use of  state tax revenues to underwrite private or parochial school tuition.

“If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids,” she said. “They’ll be the ones who will have to explain to their constituent parents why they are denying their fundamental right to choose what type of education is best for their child.”

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