Trump's proposal to cut education funding faces skepticism, backlash

Critics are skeptical of the administration's claim that the cut in funding will lower the country's deficit

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 fiscal year budget would slash $7.1 billion in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education, eliminating subsidized loans that are often used by low-income students and bringing an end to the public service loan forgiveness program.

Some have responded to the proposal with skepticism, with critics and education advocates saying that it isn't likely to pass. But others said they were concerned that the budget reflects the Trump administration's disregard for college students and university issues. 

Dave Wells, a political science professor at ASU, said that the administration knows the proposal is likely not going to pass, but is sending a message of "fiscal responsibility" before the federal deficit hits $1 trillion by the end of the year, a prediction stated in a review by the Office of Management and Budget.

“It is mainly meant to reduce the deficit and show that this is one of the ways that they’re trying to reduce it," Wells said. "This is more of a symbolic effort by the Trump administration."

Others say that slashing funding for education will ultimately not reduce the deficit, as the Education Department only represents a small portion of the federal government budget. 

Matt Salmon, a former Republican congressman and the current vice president of government affairs at ASU, said the administration should instead look at entitlement spending and debt service – areas that he said take the majority of the federal budget – if it is serious about reducing the deficit. 

"You could cut out all funding to the Department of Education and you wouldn’t even make a dent, probably less than 1 or 2 percent of the federal budget," Salmon said. "So while it may be built as deficit fighting measures, it really is not."

The public service loan forgiveness program forgives the remaining school debt for eligible workers in the public sector after they've made 120 monthly payments toward their loans, or in other words, after 10 years. This includes people who work full-time for a government agency or certain types of nonprofit organizations, such as public service workers, social workers, public prosecutors and any other worker who is serving the public. 

Wells said he’s worried that an end to the program would discourage students from pursuing careers in lower-paying public service jobs. 

"The elimination would mean that people who are choosing to go into jobs that may not pay the most, but are really quietly helpful to society, would lose the benefits that they have with their job," he said. 

The program has previously been criticized for its ineffectiveness, as approximately 99% of applicants have been rejected, according to a report from the Department of Education. 

But in spite of the low acceptance rates, Amethyst Webb, who graduated from ASU in 2014 with a degree in human communication, said one of the factors going into her decision to attend law school is the hope that she can have her loans forgiven through the program. 

"The difference between having to pay back my loans over 10 years rather than 25 years is something that I already thought about and planned for and kind of have had in the back of my mind through school," Webb said.  

The proposal would also eliminate subsidized loans. This would mean that qualifying low-income students would accrue interest on the loans while they’re still in school, instead of after they graduate.

Cesar Aguilar, executive director of the Arizona Students' Association, called the proposal "outrageous" and said the government should be expanding programs, not eliminating them. 

"One of the main reason(s) students take out loans (is) because they can’t afford to pay for college," Aguilar said in an email.

He also said that, if passed, the proposal's overall cuts to the Education Department could have an adverse effect on would-be teachers, especially following last year's #RedforEd movement that advocated for fair pay for teachers.

"The nation continues to see a rise in teacher movements ... due to the lack of funding and resources public education is receiving," Aguilar said. 

This is not the first time the administration has attempted to pass measures that cut education funding –  it has tried to pass them through Congress for the past two years, but has failed despite the fact that Republicans had control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

Salmon said that the University is not worried about the proposal and that it will oppose measures that hinder access to higher education for students. 

“We’re all very supportive at Arizona State University of anything that furthers educational opportunities for anyone and everyone in this country, especially in our state of Arizona," he said. "President Crow believes the most important issue, when it comes to university, is access and we will oppose anything that diminishes that."


Reach the reporter at wmelhem@asu.edu or follow @wissmel on Twitter.

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