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In Budget Snub, Betsy DeVos Treats Charters Like “Public Schools”

February 12, 2020

In President Trump’s proposed FY2021 budget, charter school funding is lumped together in block-grant fashion with funding once seperately designated for 29 federal K12-related programs. From the US Department of Education (USDOE) FY2021 proposed budget press release:

The budget calls for consolidating nearly all existing K-12 formula and competitive grant programs into one block grant to States, called the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged (ESED) Block Grant. Funds would be allocated using the same formulas as the Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program.

Specifically, the block grant includes consolidating these 29 federal programs:

FORMULA GRANT PROGRAMS (9)

  • Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies
  • Migrant State Grants
  • Neglected and Delinquent State Grants
  • Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Education for Homeless Children and Youths
  • Rural Education
  • Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants
  • English Language Acquisition Grants

COMPETITIVE GRANT PROGRAMS (20)

  • Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants
  • Innovative Approaches to Literacy
  • High School Equivalency Program
  • Native Hawaiian Education
  • Alaska Native Education
  • Comprehensive Centers
  • School Safety National Activities
  • Promise Neighborhoods
  • Full-Service Community Schools
  • Education Innovation and Research
  • Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants
  • American History and Civics Education
  • Supporting Effective Educator Development
  • Charter Schools Grants
  • Magnet Schools Assistance
  • Ready to Learn Programming
  • Arts in Education
  • Javits Gifted and Talented Education
  • Statewide Family Engagement Centers
  • Teacher Quality Partnership

Charter school advocates like to refer to charters as “public schools.” Well, now they get to feel more than ever like “public” schools as they have been tossed into a bin of programs that Trump (really, US ed sec, Betsy DeVos) would have states use less money overall (a proposed $4.7B cut) to decide which programs to fund.

In the USDOE press release, DeVos’s centerpiece is a $5B voucher program (same as last year), which she tries to sell as not “do[ing] a thing” to affect public school funding even as Trump-DeVos propose cutting almost that amount– $4.7B– from the 29 programs lumped into the block:

Highlights from the President’s FY 2021 Budget Request include the following:

  1. Expanding Education Freedom for Students
    • Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS) would provide up to $5 billion in additional education funding to help more than 1 million students across the country find their education fit
    • This proposal would dramatically expand the options available to families
    • States, not the Federal government, will design their own programs aimed at serving their students. Each State’s family eligibility requirements and allowable uses of scholarship funds will be aligned with their State’s unique needs
    • Funded by private, voluntary donations, EFS does not do a thing to change any funding amount already allocated to public school students or public school teachers

In funding EFS with “private donations,” what Trump-DeVos is asking is that $5B in potential tax revenue not be collected at all in the name of tax credits. Prior to being collected, the money is given away.

It is highly unlikely that the House will pass the Trump-DeVos education budget as is. (In 2019, the DeVos’ $5B voucher plan was a lead balloon.) Even so, Trump-DeVos try to sweeten the voucher deal by suggesting that the money “could support a range of educational activities such as CTE, special education services, and tuition for private school.” From the FY2021 budget as published by the White House: 

Provides Education Freedom to Families and Students.

Families must have the freedom to choose the best learning experience for their children. The Administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal would provide up to $5 billion annually in State designed scholarship programs that could support a range of educational activities such as CTE (career and technical education), special education services, and tuition for private school. This proposal would make tremendous strides toward the goal of providing all students with the opportunity to receive a high-quality education and achieve future success.

What is not highlighted as a possible “educational activity” on which to spend EFS money is the funding of charter schools. In fact, the FY2021 budget document released by the White House does not mention charter schools by name even once.

Interestingly, funding charter schools via Title I money (as opposed to a separate funding stream) was a key suggestion of the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) second report on federal charter school closure, mismanagement and waste, Still Asleep at the Wheel, a report that underestimated numbers provided by DeVos herself in her testimony before Congress in 2019:

We …strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA.

DeVos wants that $5B voucher program to become a reality. One of the criticisms of DeVos federal voucher program is that it “undermine[s] public education.” So, if she can quell additional criticism about charter school fraud even as she seems to promote public school “state-level freedom” via a block grant that throws charter schools under the school choice bus, then maybe (?) Congress will give in to her true school-choice love: school vouchers.

I don’t believe Congress will fund DeVos’ voucher hopes. But one issue is clear:

DeVos is willing to sacrifice charter school funding as she continues to promote her clearly-favored, school-choice centerpiece, school vouchers, and charter school advocates cannot undo knowing so.

Betsy DeVos 3

Betsy DeVos

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education and commented:
    Of course she does. it is just one more step towards killing all public schools.

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