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Betsy DeVos Watch: 2019 Education Budget request and the expansion of the Neoliberal agenda

February 19, 2018

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement

“The president’s budget request expands education freedom for America’s families while protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “The budget also reflects our commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level. I look forward to working with Congress to pass a budget that puts students first and returns power in education to where it belongs: with states, districts and families.”

This statement by DeVos, provides us with a clear framework for how the current administration plans to move forward on education. When Betsy DeVos says “education freedom,” it is fundamentally code for defunding public education while directing more funds to charter and private schools.

When DeVos says that the education budget will spend taxpayer money to, “ wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating duplicative and ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level,” she means that she wants to continue to implement a Koch-funded/American Legislative Exchange Council’s states rights policy on education. 

Devil’s in the Details

The 2019 Education Budget document is not particularly long, nor is it a comprehensive look at what is actually being proposed. However, there are certainly things we can take away from the document that point out specific trends in what the current administration has in mind for education that expands the neoliberal economic model.

The proposed 2019 Federal Education Budget includes the following:

  1. $1 billion for a new Opportunity Grants program that would expand both private and public school choices, particularly for students from low-income families or attending schools identified for improvement under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
  2. $500 million for the Charter Schools program to strengthen State efforts to start new charter schools or expand and replicate existing high-performing charter schools, while providing up to $100 million to meet the growing demand for charter school facilities.
  3. $20 million to support innovative Career and Technical Education programs in STEM fields, including computer science, through awards to consortia of secondary and postsecondary providers that would work with employers and local workforce agencies to ensure that these programs are aligned with regional workforce and labor market needs.
  4. Expanding the Pell Grant program to cover short-term programs. The Department’s fiscal year 2019 Budget proposes to expand Pell Grant recipients’ eligibility to include high quality short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification, or license in an in-demand field, with sufficient guardrails in place to balance students’ needs with protecting taxpayers’ interests.
  5. $12.8 billion to maintain the Federal investment in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act State formula grant program to help offset the cost of providing special education and related services to approximately 6.8 million children with disabilities.

These five 2019 Education Budget programs are not the only ones included in the proposed budget, but they are the main budgetary items.

Points 1 and 2 are pretty straight forward, with a redirecting of public money to more privately controlled educational systems, an area which Secretary DeVos has been working on for several decades now.

Points 3 and 4 increases the amount of public tax dollars to push a business class agenda, with an emphasis on creating a labor force for that meets specific needs of the business class. Note the language used when it says, “would work with employers and local workforce agencies to ensure that these programs are aligned with regional workforce and labor market needs.”

While it is important to provide adequate funding for students with disabilities (Point 5), it seems rather contradictory, considering the administration’s attack on the American’s With Disabilities Act. What will it mean for students with disabilities, who upon entering the workforce or just trying to access businesses facilities, is that those businesses can get away with not complying with or delaying their having to provide full access to people with disabilities.

Lastly, the 2019 proposed Federal Education Budget also calls for a $25 million reduction in funds designated for national school safety activities, compared with 2017. President Donald Trump’s budget would eliminate altogether a $400 million grant program that districts can use, for example, to prevent bullying or provide mental health assistance. Sort of a slap in the face, considering the most recent school shooting in Florida.

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