How Trump’s budget cuts would affect SC public schools

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President-elect Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced many questions during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. On Tuesday she pledged to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that she would not seek

South Carolina’s public education system would lose close to $246 million in federal grant money, if President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget was signed into law.

More than 14,000 local students would not be able to attend after-school programs. The cuts could bring to an end a new partnership between the S.C. Department of Education and the University of South Carolina to promote family engagement in rural schools. And the evaporation of a $28 million grant would be deeply felt in some of the poorest classrooms around the state.

“While the funded amounts may seem insignificant, it is important to remember that a little bit goes a long way in many of our rural areas,” said Ryan Brown, the S.C. Department of Education’s chief spokesman.

The administration’s fiscal year 2020 spending request to Congress, submitted earlier this week, proposes eliminating 29 programs intended to bolster public education around the country.

The president’s budget request “supports the (Trump) Administration’s commitment to eliminating funding for programs that have achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or are unable to demonstrate effectiveness,” reads the official budget blueprint submitted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Cutting these programs would achieve “annual savings of $6.7 billion,” the federal agency says.

There’s little chance the administration will succeed in seeing these programs scrapped. Congress decides which parts of the Trump administration’s budget request to enact into law, and it’s not likely the Democrat-controlled U.S. House will agree to make any of these cuts.

However, the president’s budget — influenced in part by former S.C. legislator and congressman Mick Mulvaney who was Trump’s budget director before being tapped as acting White House chief of staff — gives insight into Trump’s vision for public schools and their students, including in South Carolina.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third ranking House Democrat, indicated he would use his clout to fight these proposed cuts, saying many of the education programs targeted for elimination are those currently being taken advantage of by his constituents.

Federal funding for public education “plays a very important role” in South Carolina, Clyburn said, adding that “those people who argue for maintaining education as a state issue” are in effect also argu(ing) in favor of minimally adequate education in South Carolina.”

Many Republicans could also balk at requests to cut funding for initiatives that benefit their poorest constituents. And in a clear sign that the president’s budget is “dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill, many GOP lawmakers conceded they had not familiarized themselves with the blueprint’s details.

“I have not actually read that part of the budget, so I can’t really comment on it,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday. “I can say that there are ways for us to improve the quality of education and we should focus on those ways.”

The S.C. Department of Education strongly disagrees with the administration’s assertion that certain federal education grant programs are unnecessary, painting a stark picture of what schools in the state could have to contend with if the Trump administration’s vision became a reality.

South Carolina currently receives $18.3 million through 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, which fund educational programs outside regular school hours. Programming through these grants are taking place in 190 schools in 50 districts around the state.

The Trump administration says the Learning Centers program “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.” But Brown, with the Department of Education, said the program serves as important purpose.

“Some of the after-school and summer programs that this federal money funds are the only engaging activities that many of these students have,” Brown said.

According to April 2018 statistics from the After School Alliance, a national advocacy organization, for every South Carolina student in an after school program, three more would like to participate if such a program were available.

A federal grant to help states establish “Statewide Family Engagement Centers” to promote parental engagement in the educational lives of their children also is on the chopping block.

Brown said the S.C. Department of Education recently received a grant to partner with the University of South Carolina to form such a center to help engage parents in the state’s rural communities. The partnership is expecting a total of $4.7 million from the federal government over the course of five years.

Trump’s budget also would cut:

A little more than $17 million in grants through a program aimed at promoting the use of technology and “digital literacy” in the classrooms;

$300,000 to help individuals with disabilities receive job training; and

More than $28 million in grants aimed at high-poverty schools to help pay for teacher salaries, professional development and school supplies. These grants, the largest the state receives through the U.S. Department of Education, are also known as “Title II, Part A” funding, and are distributed to all school districts based on enrollment and poverty.

“The loss of these funds would impact ALL S.C. students and teachers, but particularly those in poverty whose schools receive more funding than those who do not,” ” Brown said of the Title II, Part A grants.

The Trump budget calls these grants “largely duplicative.”

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.