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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Trump cuts failed education programs

President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos toured Saint Andrews Catholic School in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Shealah Craighead

President Trump’s proposed education budget — called “devastating,” a “wrecking ball” and an “assault on the American Dream” — primarily cuts funding for ineffective programs, argue Williamson M. Evers, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for planning, evaluation and policy development, and Vicki E. Alger, a research fellow at the Independent Institute.

Trump wants to reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget by $9.2 billion, from $68.3 billion to $59.1 billion. Close to two-thirds of that reduction (63%) comes from eliminating programs that are duplicative or just don’t work.

For example, the administration is proposing a 10% cut in TRIO programs and a cut of almost a third in GEAR UP programs. Both are supposed to help at-risk students go to college. However, a Mathematica final report on TRIO found “no detectable effects” on college enrollment or degree completion. “In a striking acknowledgement that these programs don’t hold up under scrutiny, lobbyists for the programs got Congress to ban the Education Department from setting up control-group evaluations of TRIO and GEAR UP,” write Evers and Alger.

“The K-12 programs proposed for elimination in the Trump budget are similarly ineffective,” they write.

In 1994, the Clinton administration started the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which promised to provide disadvantaged children with after-school enrichment to improve their academic performance. Nearly $18 billion spent over two decades later, there’s scant evidence of success. It’s a $1.2 billion after-school program that doesn’t work,” according to Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution.

Three evaluations “concluded that the achievement of participating students was virtually the same, but their behavior was worse, compared with their peers who weren’t in the program,” write Evers and Alger.

Trump also proposes cutting the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which has funneled $7 billion to low-achieving schools with “no significant impacts” on math achievement, reading achievement, high school graduation, or college enrollment.

SIG is “the greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education,” said Andrew R. Smarick, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education, when the evaluation was released.

Despite “hyperbolic coverage,” writes Rick Hess, “it’s worth noting that the proposed K-12 cuts amount to perhaps one-tenth of what Washington spends each year, a figure which is about one-tenth of what the nation spends. That means, at most, the proposed cuts represent a one percent cut in K-12 spending. When it comes to higher education, the cuts are smaller still.”

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