Legally Speaking

Be Prepared

On Mar. 16, 2017, President Donald J. Trump released his first budget proposal for 2018 entitled, America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again. (See www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget.) While it is important to note that this blueprint is just a proposal, one that ultimately must be approved by Congress, Trump has provided clear insight as to his priorities and intentions with respect to public education, i.e., a $9-billion or 13.5-percent reduction in funding to the U.S. Department of Education. Thus, school districts across the country must not only carefully monitor his budget proposal, but also prepare for a likely reduction in federal aid that will inevitably affect programming and educational opportunities in K-12 public schools.

In the introductory paragraphs to the blueprint, the president indicates that the 2018 budget “…places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are better for their children by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs.” More specifically, the $1.4 billion increase to public and private school choice increases the annual total to $20 billion; includes a $168 million increase for charter schools; a $250 million allotment for a new private school choice program; and a $1 billion increase for Title I, “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.”

Other proposed cuts include:

  • $2.4 billion for the “Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants Program” — a grant given to states to help prepare and train teachers and school leaders;
  • Elimination of the “21st-Century Community Learning Centers” program — supports before and after-school programs and summer school programs;
  • Reduction in funding for the Federal TRIO and GEAR UP programs — TRIO is comprised of eight programs targeted to serve and assist low income K-12 students, first generation college students and students with disabilities progress from middle school to post baccalaureate. GEAR UP (acronym for Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) focuses on increasing the number of middle and high school students who are prepared to enter college; and
  • Elimination or reduction of over 20 categorical programs that, according to Trump, do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, or are more appropriately supported by state, local or private funds, including, but not limited to, Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, and International Education programs.

Essentially, it appears that Trump would like to see federal and state funding provided to public school districts follow students to the public schools of their choice. Betsy De Vos, the newly appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, shares Trump’s views in this regard. According to the Department’s website: “… De Vos has worked to support the creation of new educational choices for students [and] firmly believes that neither the ZIP code in which a child lives nor a child’s household income should be the principal determinant of his or her opportunity to receive a world class education …. Thus, as Secretary she will advocate for the returning control of education to states and localities, giving parents greater power to choose the educational settings that are best for their children...” (See www.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/devos.html.)

Even though it is unclear as to the exact cuts public education will endure in 2018, there seems to be no question that there will be cuts. De Vos’s position on school of choice is no secret, and thus, with the aid of decreased funding to public school districts, “choice” may very well shape the new landscape of K-12 public education. What will this mean for districts: shrinking student population; increased demand for services; reduced funding to meet demand; competing for school-aged children who reside in certain districts but “choose” to be educated in private or charter schools? Perhaps, all of the foregoing possibilities will come to fruition if Trump’s proposed budget is adopted. But, no matter what happens, school districts will still have to educate and service the needs of children. The following are just a few suggestions as to what districts can do as they formulate a strategic plan forward:

  • Contact your Congressional representatives;
  • Adopt conservative annual budgets;
  • Work with corporate partners in your community and enlist their support for educational programming and services that may be cut or eliminated entirely; and
  • Once a budget is adopted, work with your attorneys to understand the rules.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michelle P. Crockett leads the hiring of all attorneys, recruitment, diversity and inclusion initiatives, mentoring programs, professional development and continuing education (CLE) initiatives at Miller Canfield. She also specializes in defending Fortune 500 companies and public-sector clients against a variety of employment-related claims and provides litigation and traditional labor advice and support to school districts throughout Michigan, which includes but is not limited to, assistance with special education issues, due process hearings, student discipline and collective bargaining.

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