Dec 01

Update from Capitol Hill on the Trump administration’s budget proposal

It’s been seven months since the Trump administration released its budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education. With the budget’s proposed shifts in some funding priorities, educators nationwide have wondered how the measure would stand up to congressional scrutiny. For an update on the proposal’s progress on Capitol Hill, we checked in with Thomas Phillips, a congressional affairs specialist for Battelle:

Q: Since the release of the Trump administration’s federal budget proposal for the Department of Education earlier this year, what has been its fate in Congress? Have the House and Senate adhered to it, or have they come up with their own versions?

Thomas Phillips, congressional affairs specialist at Battelle, updates us on policy on STEM education

A: The answer is a mixed bag. On the whole, both the House and Senate versions rejected the severe cuts proposed by the administration, though each in its own way. The House did make some cuts but justified them with larger increases in other places, while the Senate maintained a lot of funding that the administration had eliminated but at levels that matched the previous fiscal year.


Q: How do the House and Senate versions differ from the president’s? What are the basic differences in the House and Senate versions?

A: The biggest difference is that both the House and Senate version provide an increase to the Title IV Part A “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants,” which the administration had eliminated. Whereas fiscal year 2017 saw those programs funded at $400 million, the House proposed $500 million and the Senate $450 million.

Ultimately, between the House and Senate versions, it can be said that the Senate’s protects the most programs, whereas the House appropriates more for specific programs at the expense of others. If you view the chart, you can see these differences in more detail.

Table courtesy of the STEM Education Coalition  

Q: Under the Trump administration proposal, many areas of education funding, including money for teacher training, would see cuts. Are these funds, and others, still in jeopardy?

A: Although the House and Senate have not yet conferenced their two versions, and fiscal year 2018 appropriations are still uncertain, I can say with relative certainty that none of the programs that the administration eliminated is at risk of being defunded. While the House zeroed-out Title II (teacher training) funding, the Senate included full funding at fiscal year 2017 levels.

It’s critical to remember that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was just passed during the last Congress — by a Republican majority — with the specific objective of returning power and flexibility to individual states. When the Trump administration chose to zero-out key elements of ESSA, it failed to consider that Congress would not appreciate seeing its brand-new education authorization dismantled. While not every program will receive funding at fiscal year 2017 levels, there’s no reason to believe that any of the programs will be eliminated.

Q: What about money for career technical education, or funds tied to the Perkins Act reauthorization?

A: Despite the fact that the legislation for the Perkins reauthorization remains stalled in the Senate over a disagreement around “secretarial authority and prohibitions,” both chambers of Congress remain fully committed to funding the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act state grants, and both the House and Senate included $1.1 billion (the fiscal year 2017 level) in their appropriations bills.

Q: What are the next steps in the budget process? Could there be a government shutdown? And when will we see a full budget?

A: As I have mentioned in previous posts about the budget and appropriations process, we are currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR). At the moment, the government is heading for a shutdown if a budget deal isn’t struck by December 8, 2017. It is unlikely that Congress or the administration will reach a deal by that date, and it is equally unlikely that they will let a shutdown happen.

As such, before December 8, we can expect another “short-term” CR, funding the government through December 22. This should put enough pressure for a full budget deal to be reached before members of Congress go on their holiday recess and creates the opportunity for an omnibus spending bill, covering many budget appropriation areas, to be passed in early January.

That said, there are many high-profile policies that are weighing on the process, and we’ve already seen the president publicly claim he doesn’t “see a deal.” Amid this uncertainty, we can count on Congress’ reliance on the CR.