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Former education secretary says Trump’s budget is an ‘assault on the American Dream’

A Conversation With John B. King Jr.

WATCH LIVE: Former U.S. Secretary of Education and current The Education Trust President John B. King Jr. discusses the direction of federal education policy with Education Week Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza.

Posted by Education Week on Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump’s proposed budget is “an assault on the American Dream,” former education secretary John B. King Jr. said Wednesday in a conversation with Education Week correspondent Kavitha Cardoza.

The proposed budget, released last month, would cut funding for the Department of Education by 13.5 percent — or about $9 billion.

Current education secretary Betsy DeVos called education reform a “way to advance God’s kingdom,” and touted the budget in a speech Monday. “The president promised to invest in our underserved communities, and our increased investment in choice programs will do just that,” DeVos said.

On Wednesday, King, who lead the education department under President Barack Obama from 2016 to 2017, slammed the drastic cuts.

“This budget really is an attack on the very resources that students in high-need communities need to be successful,” King said, pointing to cuts in aid for low-income students going to college and the elimination of 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an afterschool program for high-need kids.

Discussing the elimination of Title II, which provides teachers with professional development, King said “it sends a terrible message to educators when you eliminate the program that was meant to support them.”

While the budget would slash funding overall, it would increase funding for so-called school choice policies, such as charter and voucher programs, by about $1.4 billion.

“The budget stresses the need to place power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children,” DeVos said Monday.

Supporters of school choice, like DeVos, argue it improves school quality and academic performance by encouraging more competition and allowing underprivileged students the opportunity to attend better schools outside their neighborhood.

But not everyone is sold on voucher programs. Three consecutive reports on voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio released over 2015 and 2016 found that vouchers programs actually hurt student learning, especially in math. In Louisiana, researchers found that students attending public schools who were in the 50th percentile in math fell to the 26th percentile one year after transferring to a private school through the voucher program.

“The evidence is quite clear that voucher programs that exist around the country have not delivered the results,” King said, adding that charter schools have to be held accountable and that it’s not clear whether the current administration would create a system to do that.

Federal funding accounts for roughly 10 percent of education spending. About 90 percent of funding comes from the local, district and state level. But while some more wealthy districts will be able to make up that difference, the highest need states and districts won’t be able to, King said.

“The conversation now moves to the states,” he said. “And the question will be: governors and legislatures, are they willing to step up on the behalf of kids?”

Asked if there was anything he liked in the budget, King said that “across the board, it’s really headed in the wrong direction in almost every instance.”

“The primary impact of the budget will be to reduce opportunity for low-income students,” he said.