AFT President Weingarten: Trump’s Budget ‘Takes a Meat Cleaver to Public Education’

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks about education, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington. Weingarten addressed students needs to succeed and the pitfalls of an anti-public education agenda. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
AP/Cliff Owen

The president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint “takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

At a press conference Thursday, Randi Weingarten said to members of the media, “Budgets tell you priorities, and what you have here is a budget that tells you that President Trump’s priority is not public education. The budget takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

Weingarten and public education advocates have condemned Trump’s push since the end of his campaign for school choice programs as a means to bring about social justice for families living in low-income areas. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos worked in her home state of Michigan to develop school voucher programs that allowed parents to use taxpayer funds to have their children attend public charter, private and religious schools. Trump’s nomination of DeVos signaled his pivot toward school choice as the primary theme of his education agenda.

Teachers’ unions especially say that school choice will draw taxpayer funding away from traditional public schools and toward public charter schools as well as private and religious schools.

Trump’s 2018 budget calls for an increase in federal spending on school choice programs by $1.4 billion, ultimately reaching an annual total of $20 billion. Additional spending in 2018 on school choice would include:

A $168 million increase for charter schools, $250 million 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.

“The budget also includes both back-door and front-door voucher programs that further an ideological crusade against public education,” Weingarten said during the press conference.

She continued:

What we have here is what we feared when Betsy DeVos was nominated for this job. That – just like she did in Michigan – she tried to defund public schools with the aim of destabilizing and destroying them, and then lifting up other things that had really shoddy…track records. That’s exactly what the Title I portability proposal does. It’s a back-door voucher scheme which, frankly, was expressly rejected in the recently enacted bipartisan federal education law.

Trump’s budget plan also calls for either eliminating or reducing “over 20 categorical programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds.” Among those programs mentioned are: Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership, Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property, and International Education programs.

The plan also eliminates $3.6 billion in support for programs for instruction support, before and after-school and summer programs – all of which the blueprint observes, “lack evidence” of meeting the goals of improving student achievement.

Overall, Trump’s budget for next year offers $59 billion in discretionary funding for the federal Department of Education, an amount the plan says represents “a $9 billion or 13 percent reduction below the 2017 annualized CR level.”

“The cuts to community schools mean that we are not going to take poverty on head on, we’re not going to meet children’s well-being needs,” Weingarten said. “The cuts in terms of lower class size mean that we are not going to be able to meet the needs of individual children, and cuts to professional development mean the things that teachers need to learn on an ongoing basis – there’s going to be fewer people for them to learn that.”

Breitbart News asked Weingarten if she had any comment about the fact that Trump’s budget blueprint maintains the current funding levels of $13 billion for students with disabilities under the IDEA program, and $492 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions.

“The funding for IDEA and the funding for Title I are not discretionary funding,” Weingarten responded. “It is required funding, and that is very important to have.”

“The HBCUs have asked for more funding,” she added. “They needed more funding, not less funding. And you can’t just have a photo-op with HBCUs and not create more funding for them. These schools have been under austerity for years, and if they’re going to compete with others, they definitely need more funding.”


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