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June 13 2017

Much Rending of Garments and Gnashing of Teeth over (Modest) Cuts Proposed for Ed Department Budget

by Charlotte Hays

The hysteria over Trump budget plans modestly to cut the Department of Education's budget is entirely predictable--a similar outcry ensued when President Ronald Reagan tried to rein in education spending that did not lead to good results. T

Bill Evers and IWF's Vicki Alger explain in an oped piece in the Los Angeles Times why the furor is vastly overblown. They write:

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.

The  administration is proposing a 10% cut in TRIO programs and a cut of almost a third in GEAR UP programs. GEAR UP and TRIO (which despite the name consists of nine programs) are supposed to help at-risk students who hope to go to college, but who might not make it.

At the behest of the Education Department, the Mathematica Policy Research Group studied a TRIO program and found weaknesses, which it first reported in 2004. The finalreport found “no detectable effects” on college-related outcomes, including enrollment and completion of bachelor’s or associate’s degrees. 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.

Another sign of dysfunction is that — despite a demonstrable lack of success — grants to run TRIO and GEAR UP programs almost always get renewed. For example, in California, 82% of those who had grants in 2006 to manage this “no detectable effects” TRIO program still had those grants a decade later.

The K-12 programs proposed for elimination in the Trump budget are similarly ineffective.

Other programs the Trump plan calls for cutting are similarly ineffective. For example, there is the Bill Clinton's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which was going to provide cultural enrichment for disadvantaged kids. So far it has cost $18 billion and there is almost no evidence that it provides benefits. A scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution, who worked in the Clinton Ed Department,  has said it doesn't work.

The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which was established in 2001 under President George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, supplied money for failing schools. They were supposed to use the money to turn themselves around. It was a modest program at first--less than $126 million--but was funded more lavishly in the Obama administration. So far it has swallowed up $7 billion. It was such an abysmal failure that, according to the LA Times article, the Obama administration admitted it was a bust just two days before leaving office. It has been called “the greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education.”

Evers and Alger conclude:

Cutting costly, ineffective government programs isn’t the end of the world. It’s part of “[our] moral duty… to make our government leaner and more accountable,” as Trump stated during a budget meeting in February. His budgetary effort to cut waste includes the Education Department for good reason.

But to John King, former Obama ed secretary, the cuts are nothing short of "an assault on the American Dream." This is only true if the American Dream was to take money from taxpayers and waste it on programs that may sound good but don't deliver.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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