06.06.17

Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy’s Opening Statement At Appropriations Hearing On The FY18 Budget, With Witness Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Thank you, Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray, for holding this hearing today to examine the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for the Department of Education.  I appreciate the opportunity to make a few brief opening remarks.

Unfortunately, the President’s proposed budget displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the role of government of, by, and for the people, in supporting the middle class, lifting up the most vulnerable among us, and serving our values and interests as a nation.  Sequestration has had devastating consequences for both defense and non-defense programs; consequences that will last a generation or more.  The Trump budget would only extend and deepen those problems. And I think the budget proposal for the Department of Education can be summed up quickly: abysmal.

The submission from the Department of Education would reduce Federal education spending by more than 13 percent.  The budget proposes approximately $4 billion in cuts to investments in programs that support public schools, recently reauthorized by the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, while proposing $1.4 billion in new discretionary funding for the administration’s school privatization agenda, and policies that promote vouchers and school choice. This is an insult to school-aged children across the country.

President Trump has said that education is the “civil rights issue of our time.”  And I agree that education can and should be a great equalizer.  But Federal investments in public schools are intended to support all students and close achievement gaps that so many disadvantaged students face when entering school.  Instead, this budget turns its back on millions of young people and hardworking families, proposing to cut more than half a billion dollars from the vast majority of school districts that do not follow this ill-advised choice proposal.  Secretary DeVos, school choice in the most rural areas of the country, like my home state of Vermont, is simply not feasible when the closest school is an hour away as it is.  Holding Title I funds hostage to a school choice agenda that has previously been rejected by Congress will leave the most vulnerable students and school districts behind. 

As if the cuts to Title I were not bad enough, this proposal would also eliminate or greatly reduce funding for many programs on which states and schools rely, specifically those that support public education.  These programs include Preschool Development Grants, afterschool programs, Special Olympics Education Programs, adult education programs, and programs to train principals and other school leaders, among many others.  This budget also cuts aid to students who are struggling to pay for college by rescinding nearly $4 billion from Pell Grants, and eliminating or reducing support for many other student aid programs. 

The best way to create a “foundation for greatness,” as the Trump budget purports to do, is to continue to invest in America’s future through our schools and our children. As Vice Chairman of this Committee, I will work to craft a budget that truly put Americans first. I look forward to working with the other members of this Committee, on both sides of the aisle, who I believe want to fulfill that goal.  But those efforts will not start with this short-sighted, irresponsible and unrealistic budget proposal.

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