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Trump administration calls for $62 billion in education cuts

Charlene Crowell

Every budget defines priorities and values. To put it another way, what’s really important in life gets supported financially. For many families, having a home, food, and utilities usually rank pretty high. Then there are other budgetary concerns like saving for college or having a ‘rainy day’ fund to cover less frequent costs that can be much higher than the size of the next pay check. 

Government budgets, built on taxpayer dollars, also reveal priorities.  At the federal level, budgets are proposed by the executive branch, but it is the legislative branch that passes and funds budgets. What is in the best interest of the nation is supposed to be the guiding force in government budgets.

But as Sportin’ Life sang in the folk opera Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.” 

The White House’s FY 2020 proposal cuts education funding by $62 billion compared to that of FY 2019. Even worse, as the cost of higher education continues to climb, federal student aid would be seriously slashed while other programs would be totally eliminated.

Some of the most disturbing college federal cuts affect programs that lessen the amount of student loans that need to be borrowed for every academic term. As rising college costs have worsened the financial challenge faced by many Black and other low-wealth families, the availability of grant programs that do not have to be repaid and/or work-study programs are key sources for many college students and their families.

Among its many revisions, the Trump Administration stands ready to risk a sizeable portion of the proposed $7.25 billion in Pell Grant funding next year. This program is the single largest source of grant aid for low-income households for post-secondary education.

On March 26, the FY 2020 education budget was the focus of a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor-Health and Human Services-Education. Secretary Betsy Devos delivered testimony that expanded upon previously released materials from the Trump Administration.

“Since President Trump took office, Congressional appropriations for U.S. Department of Education programs have increased dramatically – in spite of the Administration’s call to slow spending,” said Secretary DeVos.

In response, Connecticut’s Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the subcommittee chairwoman, did not mince words. “This budget underfunds education at every turn” said DeLauro.  “This budget inflicts harm.”

Representative DeLauro  was absolutely correct. The work-study program that brings campus-based jobs to students would suffer a double blow. Its monies would be reduced by 55 percent and remaining funds would be shared with a proposed pilot program targeted to private sector employers for workforce development of nontraditional and low-income students.  That’s the window dressing on these cuts.

The work-study program that received over $1.2 billion in 2019 would be cut to $500.4 million. Secondly, instead of students working on campus, they would need to figure out how to reach employment at private business.

Currently, the formula-based Pell Grant award averages $4,251 per participating student. Next year as proposed, the program’s average award will be slightly less at $4,149 and traditional grant recipient students would be forced to share those funds with others enrolled in workforce development training that does not accrue credit hours or traditional academic terms.

The Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant is need-based and financially helps low-income, undergraduate students. For the past two fiscal years, this program was funded at $1.7 billion. If the Trump Administration’s proposal holds, no monies will support this program next year.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are available to students whose parent or guardian was a member of the Armed Forces and died as a result of their military deployment in either Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. In FY 2019, the average grant in this program was $5,293. In FY 2020, the White House would end it with no appropriation.    

These are only a few of the cuts proposed to higher education at a time when education is more important today than ever before. The global economy requires a highly-skilled and knowledgeable workforce. It seems so ironic that this White House keeps placing businesses before the needs of people.

Here’s hoping that Congress will hear a loud outcry on gutting federal financial aid. Enacting a budget that represents the needs of people should and must prevail.

Charlene Crowell is the Communications Deputy Director at the Center for Responsible Lending.

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