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Trump Budget Reduces Education Spending, Raises Funding For School Choice


President Trump released his 2018 budget proposal today. His $4.1 trillion plan has steep cuts for domestic spending, and we're going to take a close look at one part of it now, the education portion. Trump wants to reduce the Education Department's spending by 13-and-a-half percent overall. His budget proposal does increase funding for school choice, though, spending for charter schools and voucher programs, something Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been talking about a lot lately.

For more detail, we're going to turn to Cory Turner of the NPR Ed team. Welcome to the studio, Cory.


CORNISH: Now, we should make this clear. This is just a proposal. Obviously it's in the hands of Congress.

TURNER: Right.

CORNISH: But let's start with some of the proposed cuts out of the White House. What are the headlines here?

TURNER: Sure. Well, as we said, it's about a 13-and-a-half percent cut, which is around $9 billion. Of that, we know that more than 1 billion would come out of before- and after-school programs, another 2 billion from an effort to help states reduce class sizes and train teachers. But, Audie, one of the biggest potential impacts here on schools would actually come from proposed cuts elsewhere in the budget to Medicaid.

CORNISH: How does that work? How do schools receive Medicaid dollars?

TURNER: Well, so public schools have been required for decades by federal law to provide services to kids with special needs, special education. This includes lots of things from physical and speech therapy, hearing aids, wheelchairs, special transportation, even social workers and school nurses. And it just so happens that schools can actually apply for reimbursement from Medicaid for some of those services to the tune of roughly $4 billion, actually. This budget wouldn't shut that down entirely, but it would change the process and could mean schools having to ultimately cut some services.

CORNISH: You're talking about K through 12 here. What about higher ed? What are people concerned about?

TURNER: Yeah. Student loans seem to be where the big changes are. For starters, the administration wants to stop subsidizing the interest on many student loans. It also wants to cut the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program which forgives loans of borrowers who spend a decade working for government or in the nonprofit sector. Now, there are more than half a million people enrolled in this program. The first generation or the first class of borrowers, if you will, come due in the fall. And there are a lot of folks in this program who are nervous about what's going to happen to it.

There's one more big change to student loans. Right now there are several different repayment options. The Trump budget wants to consolidate all of those. So undergraduate borrowers under this new plan would have to pay a maximum of 12-and-a-half percent of their income over 15 years.

CORNISH: OK, Cory, those are the cuts. Let's talk more about where the White House wants to spend money specifically to expand school choice. What more can you tell us?

TURNER: Right, so the budget would provide a $167 million increase in grants to help states expand charter schools. There's also a $250 million increase for what's called the Education Innovation and Research program. That's to study and expand private school vouchers. But I do want to say, Audie, this is important. In the grand scheme of things, this budget is not the big investment in school choice that candidate Trump talked about on the campaign trail.

CORNISH: Right. On the trail, he was talking about something on order of the billions, right? That's not in this budget.

TURNER: On the campaign trail, he was talking about a $20 billion plan to expand school choice, even private school choice. That's not in this budget. That's expected later on as part of a broader overhaul of the tax code. No real details yet, though, on that.

CORNISH: That's Cory Turner of the NPR Ed team. Cory, thanks so much.

TURNER: Thank you, Audie.


Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.
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