Local officials react to $9B in potential education cuts

FILE - In this March 16, 2017 file photo, copies of President Donald Trump's first budget are displayed at the Government Printing Office in Washington. resident Donald Trump is proposing immediate budget cuts of $18 billion from programs like medical research, infrastructure and community grants so U.S. taxpayers, not Mexico, can cover the downpayment on the border wall. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By RYAN JARVI

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal aims to cut federal education spending by $9 billion by reducing K-12 funding for professional development and after-school and summer programs, as well as decreasing financial assistance provided to low-income college students. It would also increase spending for charter schools, along with public and private school choice programs.

For the current fiscal year, Michigan received about $1.8 billion from the federal government for the School Aid Fund, or about 12.7 percent of the state’s total K-12 budget, excluding local revenues, according to a February report by the state’s Senate Fiscal Agency.

While some schools rely less on federal funding for operations, others — particularly those in economically disadvantaged areas — could see a greater impact, resulting in tighter budgets.

Moreover, some school officials are concerned the federal cuts could ultimately lead to states adopting a similar approach to education funding.

POLICYMAKERS

The various cuts to the U.S. Department of Education and many other federal agencies were made to offset a $54 billion increase in defense spending without adding to the national deficit, according to the president’s proposal, called “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”

“Our $20 trillion national debt is a crisis, not just for the nation, but for every citizen,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, wrote in the document. “Each American’s share of this debt is more than $60,000 and growing.”

Trump wrote the increase in defense spending is “vital to rebuilding and preparing our Armed Forces for the future.”

Addressing the proposed education financing, the document states the budget streamlines and simplifies funding for college, while continuing to make college education more affordable.

“The 2018 budget places power in the hands of parents and families to choose (K-12) schools that are best for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs,” the blueprint states.

Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Wakefield, said earlier this month that he hadn’t looked into cuts in the area of education, but believes the government has a responsibility to improve its management of budgetary line items.

“Regardless of the outcome, it’s not about money,” he said. “It’s about outcomes, and in too many cases the stats say that our 18-year-olds are not prepared adequately to take the next first step in life, whether that first step is college, trade school, working life, the military — anything but sitting … home on the couch. We have work to do on the public education system as well as the private education system to make sure that the outcomes for our students are as good as they can be.”

HIGHER EDUCATION

Under the president’s proposal, Northern Michigan University would see a total reduction in federal financial aid of about $2.9 million, according to university projections.

Though it’s a small percentage of the roughly $70-$80 million in financial aid NMU students are awarded, officials said, there is still some concern over the proposed cuts.

“Any time you’re impacting federal aid we’re concerned for the students,” said Gavin Leach, NMU’s vice president for Finance and Administration. “We’d rather see there be more available to the students than less, obviously, so that is of concern to us.”

Leach said while the financial aid funding decreases would impact students directly, proposed elimination of federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would affect the operational side of NMU’s budget, primarily for WNMU-Public Radio 90 and WNMU-TV 13.

“It would impact them $864,000, so it’s a major impact on their operations,” he said.

Collectively, the two programs had a budget of roughly $2.7 million in 2016.

Under the proposed federal cuts, NMU would lose about $1.5 million in funding for the Perkins Loan program, which provides low-interest loans to students with exceptional financial need.

Other financial aid — primarily for work-study programs — would drop about $862,000, while the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program — which provides funding that typically doesn’t need to be repaid to students with the most financial need — would result in a $250,000 loss at NMU.

Meanwhile, the university would see smaller cuts of $40,000 and $35,000 to its GEAR UP and TRIO programs, respectively. GEAR UP — or the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, according to the U.S. Department of Education, while the TRIO program is designed to provide assistance to low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities.

In total, NMU would receive $3.54 million less from the federal government under Trump’s proposal.

“This is a long process so all these numbers could change, and usually they do,” Leach said, adding, “We’ve just got to keep tracking it, and we work with our other universities in the state, as well as nationally to try to see what we can do to protect the students and protect programs.”

Trump’s proposal would maintain roughly $492 million for programs that serve high percentages of minority students, and “safeguards the Pell Grant program by level funding the discretionary appropriation,” but would cancel $3.9 billion from the program’s unobligated carryover funding, reportedly at $10.6 billion.

K-12 IMPACT

For K-12 schools, Trump’s proposal would increase public and private school choice programs by $1.4 billion. The blueprint states the investment would provide $168 million for charter schools and $250 million for a new private school choice program. It would also increase Title I funding by $1 billion, “dedicated to encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables federal, state and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.”

However, it would cut $2.4 billion allocated to assist districts with paying for professional development programs, and $1.2 billion used to support after-school and summer programs.

Gwinn Area Community Schools gets about $1.6 million in federal funding, roughly 13.8 percent of its total revenues. Around $495,000 of that, which school officials didn’t believe was proposed to be cut, is used to provide food for students.

About $600,000 is special education funding, but Trump’s budget proposes to maintain the $13 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs.

The IDEA was originally known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act when it was passed in 1975.

Gwinn Superintendent Tom Jayne said the IDEA was intended to fully reimburse local districts for the costs of providing education to students with disabilities. But, following subsequent changes, Jayne said the district currently only gets reimbursed roughly 60 percent of that $1 million expense.

“Every district is unique,” he said. “Particularly, in our district, we have a very high at-risk population, we have a very high level of poverty, and that’s not a cut on our … population, it’s just a fact. So, we already struggle with those areas of providing the needed services. This (budget) could potentially impact meeting the needs of our students and our community.”

Another roughly $515,000 in federal funding at Gwinn is budgeted as Title funding, which includes revenue received for professional development and student support services.

The district doesn’t receive much federal money for professional development, but Jayne said he’s worried the changes to Title I funding — which is used to help pay for classroom aides who support students struggling with reading and math — will actually result in more funding for private and charter schools, rather than public ones.

“It doesn’t look like in that proposed budget we’ll get cut in our current special education funding, but the Title I funding, even though it’s an increase, that increase is potentially going to flow outside of the public schools,” Jayne said. “It’s going to the charter schools and the parochial schools, which concerns me; that if you open those flood gates, it’s just going to continue to go more toward them and we’re eventually going to get cut.”

NICE Community Schools gets a smaller percentage of federal money, about $158,000, just 1.2 percent of its total budget, Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said.

“Obviously, we don’t want to lose that money, but the federal government doesn’t have a huge impact on us,” he said.

Similar to Gwinn, NICE finances its after-school and summer programs locally, and DeAugustine said his district may receive up to $20,000 in federal funding for professional development. But he believed the shortfall could be managed.

“I hate saying that, but that’s the truth and that kind of shows you how little the federal government contributes to schools like NICE Community Schools,” he said. “It’s much more something that’s taken care of by the state of Michigan and us locally.”

Nationally, about $600 billion is spent on education, DeAugustine said, with the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed budget to be just $59 billion.

“I think it’s less than 3 percent of government spending from Washington D.C., so I find it kind of curious that it’s on the chopping block, and if that gains momentum, then maybe we would see states saying, ‘Well, the feds did away with it and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe we can start to whittle away at state funding too,’ and then that would be a big problem,” DeAugustine said.

He echoed Jayne’s concern of taxpayer money being allocated to private schools, something he believed contradicts both state and federal Constitutions.

“When you have that revenue that’s collected that’s meant for public schools, if that’s eroded, then that is a concern, because we’re a minimum per pupil foundation allowance school, as are 80 percent of the schools in Michigan, and even a higher percentage in the Upper Peninsula,” DeAugustine said. “Anything that erodes the state aid budget, potentially could impact us. … That’s a pretty big pot of money that’s sometimes diverted to other areas, and then that impacts the revenue that we get from the state of Michigan.”

DeAugustine said while NICE Community Schools would be able to manage the federal cuts, other schools, particularly those in economically disadvantaged areas may feel a much greater burden.

“It’s not always about us just worrying about NICE Community Schools, which is of course our No. 1 concern because this is where we take care of our kids,” DeAugustine said. “But as an educator there’s just that bigger picture of: are students in Michigan being given the same opportunities and access to education as kids around the country, or just because you live in one zip code, are you at a disadvantage compared to a student in another zip code because you happen to live in an impoverished area? That is a worry.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.

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