Trump Sharpens Budget Knife for Education Department, Sources Say

The Trump administration is contemplating dramatic cuts to K-12 spending, including a possible $6 billion reduction to existing programs in the U.S. Department of Education, according to multiple education policy sources who have gleaned details about budget documents still being finalized. The department currently has a budget of about $70 billion.

The possible cuts would be included in the Trump administration’s initial spending plan for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1 and generally impacts the 2018-19 school year. Such cuts in a budget proposal expected this week could mean a staffing reduction at the department in the range of 25 to 30 percent, sources said, although it’s not clear how the cuts would be applied. The department currently has about 4,000 employees.

Sources said specifics on the budget in general remain in flux, and it’s still unclear how much detail will be included in the initial proposal. The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Some of the programs said to be headed for the chopping block have major support on both sides of the congressional aisle. They include the roughly $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which could be slated for elimination, sources said. The program helps finance after-school, extended-day, and other enrichment programs, and is popular with lawmakers in rural states.  

Sources said the budget proposal in the works could also eliminate the third-largest K-12 program in the department: Supporting Effective Instruction state grants program, also known as Title II, Part A, which is funded at $2.25 billion and provides funding for a host of professional development programs for educators. The money can also be used for hiring teachers and school leaders and reducing class sizes. 

And there could be significant cuts to other programs, including the $1 billion Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program, which is the largest federal funding source for high schools, as well as at least two longstanding college-access programs, TRIO and GEARUP.

Sources also said they did not expect the administration to fund Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new block grant created under the law that districts could use for health, safety, technology, arts, and other programs. 

The budget could, however, make room for a $200 million pilot program for school choice, sources said. And charter school grants, currently funded at more than $300 million, could also see an increase. 

Significant proposed cuts, while eye-popping, wouldn’t come as a complete surprise. President Donald Trump said earlier this year that he wants to boost defense spending by $54 billion, and make up for it with commensurate cuts to domestic programs, including K-12 education. 

There could be at least a couple of bright spots for education, sources said. They could include a proposed increase to Title I grants for disadvantaged students, which are currently funded at nearly $15 billion. It is unclear how much of the still-unknown increase would be new money, since Congress eliminated the School Improvement Grant program under ESSA and combined it with Title I. And special education state grants, funded at nearly $12 billion, would appear likely to be spared from major reductions. 

The cuts being contemplated, if proposed and enacted, could have a dramatic impact on the department, as well as state and local education budgets. At the same time though, it’s hard to imagine the current, Republican-controlled Congress signing off wholesale on cuts of this scope.

“Presidents propose budgets, Congress disposes of them,” said a GOP aide who had not yet been briefed on the spending plan. “Trump’s a negotiator, he will come in with a low bid and see what the counterproposal is.”


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What federal support for arts education looks like in California

On Friday afternoons, adults learning English at a school in Wilmington — a neighborhood near the Los Angeles Harbor — switch from vocabulary and grammar to Taiko, Japanese drumming. 

“It is really unusual, but it is very interesting how it motivates you to continue growing your vocabulary,” said Carmen, who’s been a student in the Taiko class for three years. She came to the United States from Guatemala five years ago and makes time for the ESL classes in between working as a housekeeper.

“Taiko pulls me to continue coming to school,” she added.

“When you’re playing music, you think about listening and following and constantly pushing yourself to grow,” said Kris Bergstrom, an instructor with the Los Angeles Taiko Institute, “and that’s the same thing you’re doing when you’re learning language.”

The Taiko program for adult ESL students was developed by the Grand Vision Foundation, a San Pedro-based nonprofit, and is supported by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We really couldn’t do that specific program without support from NEA,” said Liz Schindler Johnson, executive director of Grand Vision Foundation. In addition to supporting the Taiko classes, the group produces live events, provides recorder lessons in nearby public schools, field trips and arts training for classroom teachers.

As the new administration pledges to shrink government spending, she and many other arts advocates are concerned that these programs could lose federal support. 

According to The Hill, many departments face budget reductions. But arts advocates are particularly concerned that Congressional funding for the NEA could be at risk, and those fears have triggered a smattering of petitions and op-eds. 

Grants from the NEA are a major part of the ecology of arts funding in every state and are a major support in bringing arts programming in schools and communities.

In California, more than 350 arts programs received grants from the agency in 2016, adding up to over $9 million. This includes everything from $99,500 to support a rural arts program in Fresno, to $10,000 to support an arts mentoring program in Venice.

(The NEA has a detailed logs of grant funding and you can explore all of the projects funded since 1998 here.)

While Schindler Johnson says the NEA grants don’t make or break the budget at Grand Vision, they are a catalyst in leveraging support from other donors. About a third of their $600,000 budget comes from a combination of federal, state and corporate grants.

“From a perspective of running a small arts organization, there are really very few funding sources,” she said. “It gives us a lot of recognition, it helps provide credibility to hundreds and hundreds of arts organizations in our country.”

Organizations that receive NEA grants must get matching local funds as a condition to receive the money. According to the agency, each dollar NEA direct funding leverages up to $9 in private and other public funds, resulting in $500 million in matching support in 2016.

Organizations go through rigorous application processes and panel reviews, so getting a grant from the NEA is like getting a gold star in the field, advocates say. Ayanna Hudson, the director of arts education for the NEA, describes the grants as the “highest level of artistic excellence and artistic merit.”

The agency declined to address the worries about Congressional cuts specifically, but Hudson did emphasize the agency’s role in expanding arts access.

In California, $1.2 million in 2016 went specifically toward arts education grants for pre-K through 12th graders, though many of the projects have a component of learning and community engagement.

“Most of our arts education funding is really focused on vulnerable youth across the country,” Hudson said. “Fifty percent of arts education grants go to high-poverty communities, and 76 percent benefit youth in underserved communities.”

Opponents of the NEA often argue that federal funding for the arts is a waste of resources, that it discourages individual donations to the arts, and that putting funding into the free market could actually level the playing field more by diversifying funding opportunities.

“I just don’t see it,” said Craig Watson, president of the California Arts Council. “I think if anything, it would exacerbate the strains and stresses that already exist in our society between philanthropy, where it goes and who it serves.” 

Watson represents another branch in the ecological network of arts funding – state arts councils. In addition to providing direct grants to arts organizations, the agency supports arts councils in every state. Those councils, which also receive state funding, provide more grant funding to local arts organizations. 

The $148 million allocated to the NEA is a tiny slice of the federal budget, and in the past, plans to gut it have been overturned with bipartisan support. California poet laureate Dana Gioia was chairman of the NEA from 2003-2009, when it was recovering from big cuts made in the late 1990s.

“We gradually made Congress understand that the money that was coming into the NEA was reaching their community,” Gioia said, “and doing things in their community that everyone recognized were valuable – especially in education.”

Though he acknowledges the unpredictable nature of the current administration, Gioia is confident that the bipartisan coalition of support he helped to build will continue funding arts programs in communities across California and the country.  

What federal support for arts education looks like in Southern California

On Friday afternoons, adults learning English at a school in Wilmington – a neighborhood near the Los Angeles Harbor – switch from vocabulary and grammar to Taiko, Japanese drumming. 

“It is really unusual, but it is very interesting how it motivates you to continue growing your vocabulary,” said Carmen, who’s been a student in the Taiko class for three years. She came to the United States from Guatemala five years ago and makes time for the ESL classes in between working as a housekeeper.

“Taiko pulls me to continue coming to school,” she added.

“When you’re playing music, you think about listening and following and constantly pushing yourself to grow,” said Kris Bergstrom, an instructor with the Los Angeles Taiko Institute, “and that’s the same thing you’re doing when you’re learning language.”

The Taiko program for adult ESL students was developed by the Grand Vision Foundation, a San Pedro-based nonprofit, and is supported by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We really couldn’t do that specific program without support from NEA,” said Liz Schindler Johnson, executive director of Grand Vision Foundation. In addition to supporting the Taiko classes, the group produces live events, provides recorder lessons in nearby public schools, field trips and arts training for classroom teachers.

As the new administration pledges to shrink government spending, she and many other arts advocates are concerned that these programs could lose federal support. 

According to The Hill, many departments face budget reductions. But arts advocates are particularly concerned that Congressional funding for the NEA could be at risk, and those fears have triggered a spattering of petitions and op-eds. 

Grants from the NEA are a major part of the ecology of arts funding in every state and are a major support in bringing arts programming in schools and communities.

In California, more than 350 arts programs received grants from the agency in 2016, adding up to over $9 million dollars. This includes everything from $99,500 to support a rural arts program in Fresno, to $10,000 to support an arts mentoring program in Venice.

(The NEA has a detailed logs of grant funding and you can explore all of the projects funded since 1998 here.)

While Schindler Johnson says the NEA grants don’t make or break the budget at Grand Vision, they are a catalyst in leveraging support from other donors. About a third of their $600,000 budget comes from a combination of federal, state and corporate grants.

“From a perspective of running a small arts organization, there are really very few funding sources,” she said. “It gives us a lot of recognition, it helps provide credibility to hundreds and hundreds of arts organizations in our country.”

Organizations that receive NEA grants must get matching local funds as a condition to receive the money. According to the agency, each dollar NEA direct funding leverages up to $9 in private and other public funds, resulting in $500 million in matching support in 2016.

Organizations go through rigorous application processes and panel reviews, so getting a grant from the NEA is like getting a gold star in the field, advocates say. Ayanna Hudson, the director of arts education for the NEA, describes the grants as the “highest level of artistic excellence and artistic merit.”

The agency declined to address the worries about Congressional cuts specifically, but Hudson did emphasize the agency’s role in expanding arts access.

In California, $1.2 million in 2016 went specifically toward arts education grants for pre-K through 12th graders, though many of the projects have a component of learning and community engagement.

“Most of our arts education funding is really focused on vulnerable youth across the country,” Hudson said. “Fifty percent of arts education grants go to high-poverty communities, and 76 percent benefit youth in underserved communities.”

Opponents of the NEA often argue that federal funding for the arts is a waste of resources, that it discourages individual donations to the arts, and that putting funding into the free market could actually level the playing field more by diversifying funding opportunities.

“I just don’t see it,” said Craig Watson, president of the California Arts Council. “I think if anything, it would exacerbate the strains and stresses that already exist in our society between philanthropy, where it goes and who it serves.” 

Watson represents another branch in the ecological network of arts funding – state arts councils. In addition to providing direct grants to arts organizations, the agency supports arts councils in every state. Those councils, which also receive state funding, provide more grant funding to local arts organizations. 

The $148 million allocated to the NEA is a tiny slice of the federal budget, and in the past, plans to gut it have been overturned with bipartisan support. California poet laureate Dana Gioia was chairman of the NEA from 2003-2009, when it was recovering from big cuts made in the late 1990s.

“We gradually made Congress understand that the money that was coming into the NEA was reaching their community,” Gioia said, “and doing things in their community that everyone recognized were valuable – especially in education.”

Though he acknowledges the unpredictable nature of the current administration, Gioia is confident that the bipartisan coalition of support he helped to build will continue funding arts programs in communities across California and the country.  

How Trump’s Most Lasting Legacy Could Be An Education Disaster

Congressional Republicans’ battle to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has received the lion’s share of attention — or at least the attention devoted to legislation (as opposed to wire-tapping allegations and suggestions of microwave spying). As important as that debate is, however, there’s another item on the Republican agenda that could have consequences every bit as harmful as an ACA repeal. House bill 610 (H.R. 610) would, among other things, establish a voucher program for American schools, funded by a repeal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

The bill was introduced by Iowa Republican Steve King, a congressman who also made headlines this week for his comments about diversity in the United States. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” King wrote in a tweet supporting a far-right Dutch political candidate. Critics argued that the tweet reflected bigoted and even white nationalist principles, and former Klu Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke praised  King in an all-caps Tweet shortly afterward.

King’s personal controversies aside, H.R. 610 should be as widely discussed as an ACA repeal. Its ramifications could certainly be as widespread as undoing Obamacare without a sufficient replacement, and I believe damage done by failing to educate a generation of American children could injure the United States for decades to come.

Donald Trump has made it clear that he supports voucher programs for schools — it was a major point made in his February address to Congress, and his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a well-known advocate for voucher programs. But what, exactly, are voucher programs, and what would their implementation mean for American families?

The money the state would have spent on a given child in public school would instead go to a school selected by that child’s parents, including private or religious schools. Voucher proponents like the American Federation for Children argue that this program would enable all parents, including low-income ones, to send their children to the school of their choice.

More choices does not necessarily mean better choices, however, as critics of the voucher program argue. DeVos was a well-known advocate for a charter schools program in Detroit to increase choice options; after the program was implemented, Stephen Henderson at the Detroit Free Press noted that actual quality education “remains in short supply.” Moreover, in the 14 states have already implemented voucher programs, results are mixed at best. A series of recent studies intended to examine the effects of these programs each found what the New York Times called  called “dismal” results — according to the Times, vouchers actively “hurt student learning.” A voucher program, furthermore, wouldn’t come cheaply:  Trump’s school choice proposal would cost upwards of $20 billion.

That money would come out of existing federal education funds allocated under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). ESEA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and particularly sought to help underprivileged children by providing grants to school districts and state education agencies. It also provides particular funds to help educate low-income students and children with disabilities.


H.R. 610 would repeal ESEA and use this money to fund vouchers and block grants, instead. The loss of federal ESEA aid means that the many schools that rely on its grants would not have sufficient funding. According to the  United Federation of Teachers (UFT), an ESEA repeal and voucher program would increase class sizes, decrease the teacher-student ratio, and cause the loss of after-school programs.

“The damage would spread through the system,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in February, “raising class sizes even in non-Title I schools, threatening academic enrichment programs, guidance, art and music and other services our children depend on.”

The ostensible aim of voucher programs — to enable all children in America to get a good education — is an admirable one.

However, given the lack of compelling evidence that such programs work, and given the immense value of existing ESEA federal grants to schools across the country, I believe H.R. 610 would be a disaster for American students.

Special education struggles to find funding in the Legislature …

HELENA — The main state budget bill at the Montana Legislature passed first reading last week with some surprises, like the restoration of $11.5 million to higher education funding, and some expected cuts.

But one area has consistently struggled to find funding throughout the entirety of the 65th Montana Legislative session — special education. Funded through a combination of federal dollars and state funds, special education has seen minimal increases in state funds, leaving local and federal dollars to pick up the slack, according to a report by the legislative school funding interim committee.

Seven bills addressing special ed funding have been introduced by three different legislators this session. All but two of them have been tabled or killed. Only House Joint Resolution 1, which would request an interim study on the subject, has been signed into law.

The bills deal with everything from providing inflationary increases to special education to allowing students with disabilities to remain in school until age 22.

As with other programs that are facing cuts in a tight budget this session, the problem boils down to a lack of funding.

“In my mind, it’s more of a federal government problem they need to be solving,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. “They’re capable of doing it.”


+3 

Nancy Ballance (R)

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton


Montana Legislature

Ballance is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of reviewing and passing House Bill 2, the state’s budget. Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, proposed an amendment that would have written an inflationary increase for special ed funding of nearly 2 percent into the budget by fiscal year 2019. The amendment ultimately failed on a vote of 9-13.

“We get $43 million a year from the federal government,” Ballance said. “If we add that inflation factor, it’s going to get to a point where we can’t fund everything in the state.”

Ballance doesn’t deny there are issues with special education in the state. Representatives from both sides of the aisle have proposed funding measures for special needs students, but the philosophies differ.

“I believe that every person here knows that this has to be funded,” said Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena. “Some maybe feel it a little more urgently than others, but it’s a given in my opinion.”


+3 

Moffie Funk (D)

Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena


Montana Legislature

Funk sponsored House Bill 253, which would put special education funding in line with schools’ ANB funding, or “average number belonging.” ANB is the measure that determines the amount of funding schools receive based on number of students. Currently, special needs students receive funding separately from general education students.

“I argued, this way we don’t have to come back each year and figure out how we’re going to pay for special ed,” Funk said.

Supporters of the bill said HB 253 was necessary for the continued support of those programs.

“After 24 years in education, I feel the adequacy of special education funding is at a tipping point,” said Lisa Lowney, a special education administrator in Helena. “To meet the mandates of special education services, we are having to reduce opportunities for general education students, causing an equity issue.”

Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the teachers union, said legislators could have solved many of the problems befalling special education with HB 253.

“You can make some of the rhetoric go away if you adopt this bill,” Feaver said during the hearing.

However, Funk’s bill did not make it past first reading. A motion to “blast” the bill out of committee and onto the House floor also failed.

Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, took a more individual-based approach with House Bill 423. The bill, the only other on special education that is still alive, would create a savings account program for special needs students, and would allow parents to take the amount of money allotted to their child by the state and use it for alternative special education programs.


+3 

Seth Berglee

Rep. Seth Berglee received praise from Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for his efforts in passing House Bill 191, which would increase funding for grades K-12 based on inflation. Berglee is the chairman for the House Education Committee.


Berglee’s bill faced criticism for removing funds from existing special education programs. But he said he doesn’t see how it would detract from other students.

He said finding “creative solutions” to the state’s special education problems won’t weaken the ability of other students to receive their allotted funding.

“It’s impossible, I think, to have a system that completely fixes it or makes everything right,” Berglee said. “I think he best thing to do is find options that work for the majority of people.”

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, took a different approach, attempting to provide inflationary increases for both schools and special education cooperatives. Two of the bills, House Bills 31 and 33, would have funded schools and cooperatives separately. House Bill 32 provided increases for both.


+3 

Kathy Kelker

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, speaks at the Montana Legislature on Jan. 30, 2017, in Helena.


Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

Kelker said cooperatives generally serve rural communities, and struggle because they only receive funding from grants, rather than taxes, like schools that offer special education services.

“Some of them are actually at the brink of bankruptcy. They just couldn’t provide the services,” Kelker said. “If that would happen, it would mean the individual small, small districts would have to do all their special ed stuff themselves.”

Kelker said that means schools hiring instructors to educate special needs students themselves, which could mean hiring one teacher for a very small number of students.

“If special education isn’t funded appropriately, it’s a mandated service, so the school districts dip into their general fund and pay for special ed,” Kelker said. “Thus, depriving the general population of kids the benefit of having what was in the general fund.”

House Bill 32 passed second reading on the House floor, but was tabled in the appropriations committee.

Kelker also introduced House Bill 274 to allow students with disabilities to remain in school up to age 22. It was also tabled in committee.

She said allowing students with special needs to remain in school would allow them to retain the skills they have learned, which would make them better suited to entering the workforce than if they graduated at age 18.

During the bill’s committee hearing, several parents and individuals with disabilities testified on the potential benefits of the bill.

Keith Gilyard, a man from Belgrade whose son has Down syndrome, said the bill would help his son get the education he needs.

“He’s always going to be a little behind, but he’s not that far behind,” Gilyard said. “He could potentially reap the benefits of a bill like this.”

At the same hearing, Meredith Scully, the founder of Cottonwood Day School for special needs students in Bozeman, said her students are determined to learn, and could use the support the bill would have provided.

“Every child can learn despite their challenges,” Scully said.

Kelker said that while most of these bills are unlikely to pass this session, (She called herself the “queen of tabled bills.”) she has hope for the future, and will continue to try to get these ideas written into law.

“I’ll be here in my old lady wheelchair,” Kelker said.

Special education struggles to find funding in the Legislature

HELENA — The main state budget bill at the Montana Legislature passed first reading last week with some surprises, like the restoration of $11.5 million to higher education funding, and some expected cuts.

But one area has consistently struggled to find funding throughout the entirety of the 65th Montana Legislative session — special education. Funded through a combination of federal dollars and state funds, special education has seen minimal increases in state funds, leaving local and federal dollars to pick up the slack, according to a report by the legislative school funding interim committee.

Seven bills addressing special ed funding have been introduced by three different legislators this session. All but two of them have been tabled or killed. Only House Joint Resolution 1, which would request an interim study on the subject, has been signed into law.

The bills deal with everything from providing inflationary increases to special education to allowing students with disabilities to remain in school until age 22.

As with other programs that are facing cuts in a tight budget this session, the problem boils down to a lack of funding.

“In my mind, it’s more of a federal government problem they need to be solving,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. “They’re capable of doing it.”


+3 

Nancy Ballance (R)

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton


Montana Legislature

Ballance is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of reviewing and passing House Bill 2, the state’s budget. Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, proposed an amendment that would have written an inflationary increase for special ed funding of nearly 2 percent into the budget by fiscal year 2019. The amendment ultimately failed on a vote of 9-13.

“We get $43 million a year from the federal government,” Ballance said. “If we add that inflation factor, it’s going to get to a point where we can’t fund everything in the state.”

Ballance doesn’t deny there are issues with special education in the state. Representatives from both sides of the aisle have proposed funding measures for special needs students, but the philosophies differ.

“I believe that every person here knows that this has to be funded,” said Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena. “Some maybe feel it a little more urgently than others, but it’s a given in my opinion.”


+3 

Moffie Funk (D)

Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena


Montana Legislature

Funk sponsored House Bill 253, which would put special education funding in line with schools’ ANB funding, or “average number belonging.” ANB is the measure that determines the amount of funding schools receive based on number of students. Currently, special needs students receive funding separately from general education students.

“I argued, this way we don’t have to come back each year and figure out how we’re going to pay for special ed,” Funk said.

Supporters of the bill said HB 253 was necessary for the continued support of those programs.

“After 24 years in education, I feel the adequacy of special education funding is at a tipping point,” said Lisa Lowney, a special education administrator in Helena. “To meet the mandates of special education services, we are having to reduce opportunities for general education students, causing an equity issue.”

Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the teachers union, said legislators could have solved many of the problems befalling special education with HB 253.

“You can make some of the rhetoric go away if you adopt this bill,” Feaver said during the hearing.

However, Funk’s bill did not make it past first reading. A motion to “blast” the bill out of committee and onto the House floor also failed.

Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, took a more individual-based approach with House Bill 423. The bill, the only other on special education that is still alive, would create a savings account program for special needs students, and would allow parents to take the amount of money allotted to their child by the state and use it for alternative special education programs.


+3 

Seth Berglee

Rep. Seth Berglee received praise from Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for his efforts in passing House Bill 191, which would increase funding for grades K-12 based on inflation. Berglee is the chairman for the House Education Committee.


Berglee’s bill faced criticism for removing funds from existing special education programs. But he said he doesn’t see how it would detract from other students.

He said finding “creative solutions” to the state’s special education problems won’t weaken the ability of other students to receive their allotted funding.

“It’s impossible, I think, to have a system that completely fixes it or makes everything right,” Berglee said. “I think he best thing to do is find options that work for the majority of people.”

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, took a different approach, attempting to provide inflationary increases for both schools and special education cooperatives. Two of the bills, House Bills 31 and 33, would have funded schools and cooperatives separately. House Bill 32 provided increases for both.


+3 

Kathy Kelker

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, speaks at the Montana Legislature on Jan. 30, 2017, in Helena.


Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

Kelker said cooperatives generally serve rural communities, and struggle because they only receive funding from grants, rather than taxes, like schools that offer special education services.

“Some of them are actually at the brink of bankruptcy. They just couldn’t provide the services,” Kelker said. “If that would happen, it would mean the individual small, small districts would have to do all their special ed stuff themselves.”

Kelker said that means schools hiring instructors to educate special needs students themselves, which could mean hiring one teacher for a very small number of students.

“If special education isn’t funded appropriately, it’s a mandated service, so the school districts dip into their general fund and pay for special ed,” Kelker said. “Thus, depriving the general population of kids the benefit of having what was in the general fund.”

House Bill 32 passed second reading on the House floor, but was tabled in the appropriations committee.

Kelker also introduced House Bill 274 to allow students with disabilities to remain in school up to age 22. It was also tabled in committee.

She said allowing students with special needs to remain in school would allow them to retain the skills they have learned, which would make them better suited to entering the workforce than if they graduated at age 18.

During the bill’s committee hearing, several parents and individuals with disabilities testified on the potential benefits of the bill.

Keith Gilyard, a man from Belgrade whose son has Down syndrome, said the bill would help his son get the education he needs.

“He’s always going to be a little behind, but he’s not that far behind,” Gilyard said. “He could potentially reap the benefits of a bill like this.”

At the same hearing, Meredith Scully, the founder of Cottonwood Day School for special needs students in Bozeman, said her students are determined to learn, and could use the support the bill would have provided.

“Every child can learn despite their challenges,” Scully said.

Kelker said that while most of these bills are unlikely to pass this session, (She called herself the “queen of tabled bills.”) she has hope for the future, and will continue to try to get these ideas written into law.

“I’ll be here in my old lady wheelchair,” Kelker said.

How Trump Can Use His Tax Cut To Drain The Federal Research Swamp

President Trump has made it reasonably clear that he is not concerned about the deficit, though he hasn’t gotten around yet to appropriating Ronald Reagan’s quip that the deficit is big enough to look after itself. As if thumbing his nose at the deficit, Trump plans to reduce the corporate income tax to 15 percent. The respected and nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates that, even scored dynamically, the new rate will reduce federal revenue by $1.54 trillion over the next decade, or an average of about $154 billion each year. Even in Washington, that’s serious money.

Like the deficit, the corporate tax revenue shortfall also may be big enough to look after itself, but that’s no reason not to give it some help. And help is only a research grant—or 10,000 research grants—away. The federal government gave out an estimated $147 billion in research grants in 2016: $79 billion for defense, $68 billion for non-defense.

So let’s just cancel all the research grants. The net loss to the federal treasury from the corporate tax cut becomes manageable. Corporations can spend however much of their tax savings on research they want to, and in whatever ways they deem useful.

Research Grants Don’t Usually Create Quality Research

Defense mavens would not be happy. They would say it is unlikely that the country’s defense needs could be met in such a situation. Not wishing to pick a fight with people who spend billions for bombs, let’s just eliminate, for now, the spending on non-defense research.

In 1982, the Department of Education sought to run an actual competition for the “research” funds it was supposed to award on a competitive basis to “labs” and “centers” (as they were called) that did research on educational issues. The labs and centers would submit proposals, and the department would fund the best of them. When Congress got wind of the scheme to go back to competitive bidding, it attached a rider to a bill that required the department to continue to give the funds to the same organizations that had received them for years. It became embarrassingly apparent (if Congress is capable of being embarrassed) that the grants had nothing whatsoever to do with quality research. They were pure payola from the congressmen to their constituents.

Who doubts the situation is much the same with the $68 billion of non-defense research grants that will be dispensed this year? And who doubts that privately directed research would be more useful than government-funded and controlled research?

New Technology Usually Spurs Scientific Discovery

One doubter is L. Rafael Reif, who writes in the Wall Street Journal that “the qualities that make industry good at applied research and development — an appetite for immediate commercialization, a laser focus on consumer demand, an obligation to maximize short-term returns, and a proprietary attitude about information — make industry a bad fit for supporting basic scientific research.” Mr. Reif is the president of MIT, and readers with a laser focus on full disclosure will want to know how much money MIT gets from the federal government, a datum not vouchsafed to us by Mr. Reif.

Serious doubters are urged to read “The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge” by Matt Ridley. He quotes Terence Kealey, a biochemist turned economist, who says that when you examine the history of innovation, you find that scientific breakthroughs are the results—not the causes—of technological change. Ridley writes,

It is no accident that astronomy blossomed in the wake of the age of exploration. The steam engine owed almost nothing to the science of thermodynamics, but the science of thermodynamics owed almost everything to the steam engine. The flowering of chemistry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was driven by the needs of dye makers. The discovery of the structure of DNA depended heavily on X-ray crystallography of biological molecules, a technique developed in the wool industry to try to improve textiles.

The Private Sector Innovates Best On Its Own

Adam Smith noticed the same flow, reporting in “The Wealth of Nations” that “a great part of the machines made use of in those manufactures … were originally the inventions of common workmen.”

Ridley writes, “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Britain and the United States made huge contributions to science with negligible public funding, while German and France, with hefty public funding, achieved no greater results in science or economics.”

“In 2003,” Ridley reports, “the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] published a paper on ‘sources of growth’ in OECD countries between 1971 and 1998, finding to its explicit surprise that whereas privately funded research and development stimulated economic growth, publicly funded research had no economic impact whatsoever. None.”

Mr. Reif, and no doubt others, will point to discoveries that resulted from federally funded projects. But given the amount of taxpayer money—billions and billions of dollars—granted by the federal government over many decades, we should be surprised and appalled if it had produced nothing.

Donald Trump is the perfect change agent for draining the research swamp. And the perfect time is now, when he’s cutting the corporate income tax—and cutting it by more than 57 percent. Draining the research swamp immediately, thereby maximizing the long-term returns, is a breakthrough government could justly take pride in producing.

Business Briefs March 12, 2017

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Special education struggles to find funding in the Legislature

HELENA — The main state budget bill at the state Legislature passed first reading last week with some surprises, such as the restoration of $11.5 million to higher education funding, and some expected cuts.

But one area has consistently struggled to find funding so far throughout the entirety of the 65th Montana Legislative session — special education. Funded through a combination of federal dollars and state funds, special education has seen minimal increases in state funds, leaving local and federal dollars to pick up the slack, according to a report by the legislative school funding interim committee.

Seven bills addressing special ed funding have been introduced by three legislators this session. All but two of them have been tabled or killed. Only House Joint Resolution 1, which would request an interim study on the subject, has been signed into law.

The bills deal with everything from providing inflationary increases to special education to allowing students with disabilities to remain in school until age 22.

As with other programs that are facing cuts in a tight budget this session, the problem boils down to a lack of funding.

“In my mind, it’s more of a federal government problem they need to be solving,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton. “They’re capable of doing it.”

Ballance is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of reviewing and passing House Bill 2, the state’s budget. Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, proposed an amendment that would have written an inflationary increase for special ed funding of nearly 2 percent into the budget by fiscal year 2019. The amendment ultimately failed on a vote of 9-13.

“We get $43 million a year from the federal government,” Ballance said. “If we add that inflation factor, it’s going to get to a point where we can’t fund everything in the state.”

Ballance doesn’t deny there are issues with special education in the state. Representatives from both sides of the aisle have proposed funding measures for special needs students, but the philosophies differ.

“I believe that every person here knows that this has to be funded,” said Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena. “Some maybe feel it a little more urgently than others, but it’s a given in my opinion.”

Funk sponsored House Bill 253, which would put special education funding in line with schools’ ANB funding, or “average number belonging.” ANB is the measure that determines the amount of funding schools receive based on number of students. Currently, special needs students receive funding separately from general education students.

“I argued, this way we don’t have to come back each year and figure out how we’re going to pay for special ed,” Funk said.

Supporters of the bill said HB 253 was necessary for the continued support of those programs.

“After 24 years in education, I feel the adequacy of special education funding is at a tipping point,” said Lisa Lowney, a special education administrator in Helena. “To meet the mandates of special education services, we are having to reduce opportunities for general education students, causing an equity issue.”

Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the teachers union, said legislators could have solved many of the problems befalling special education with HB 253.

“You can make some of the rhetoric go away if you adopt this bill,” Feaver said during the hearing.

However, Funk’s bill did not make it past first reading. A motion to “blast” the bill out of committee and onto the House floor also failed.

Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, took a more individual-based approach with House Bill 423. The bill, the only other on special education that is still alive, would create a savings account program for special needs students, and would allow parents to take the amount of money allotted to their child by the state and use it for alternative special education programs.

Berglee’s bill faced criticism for removing funds from existing special education programs. But he said he doesn’t see how it would detract from other students.

He said finding “creative solutions” to the state’s special education problems won’t weaken the ability of other students to receive their allotted funding.

“It’s impossible, I think, to have a system that completely fixes it or makes everything right,” Berglee said. “I think the best thing to do is find options that work for the majority of people.”

Rep. Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, took a different approach, attempting to provide inflationary increases for both schools and special education cooperatives. Two of the bills, House Bills 31 and 33, would have funded schools and cooperatives separately. House Bill 32 provided increases for both.

Kelker said cooperatives generally serve rural communities, and struggle because they only receive funding from grants, rather than taxes, like schools that offer special education services.

“Some of them are actually at the brink of bankruptcy. They just couldn’t provide the services,” Kelker said. “If that would happen, it would mean the individual small, small districts would have to do all their special ed stuff themselves.”

Kelker said that means schools hiring instructors to educate special needs students themselves, which could mean hiring one teacher for a very small number of students.

“If special education isn’t funded appropriately, it’s a mandated service, so the school districts dip into their general fund and pay for special ed,” Kelker said. “Thus, depriving the general population of kids the benefit of having what was in the general fund.”

House Bill 32 passed second reading on the House floor, but was tabled in the appropriations committee.

Kelker also introduced House Bill 274 to allow students with disabilities to remain in school up to age 22. It was also tabled in committee.

She said allowing students with special needs to remain in school would allow them to retain the skills they have learned, which would make them better suited to entering the workforce than if they graduated at age 18.

During the bill’s committee hearing, several parents and individuals with disabilities testified on the potential benefits of the bill.

Keith Gilyard, a man from Belgrade whose son has Down syndrome, said the bill would help his son get the education he needs.

“He’s always going to be a little behind, but he’s not that far behind,” Gilyard said. “He could potentially reap the benefits of a bill like this.”

At the same hearing, Meredith Scully, the founder of Cottonwood Day School for special needs students in Bozeman, said her students are determined to learn, and could use the support the bill would have provided.

“Every child can learn despite their challenges,” Scully said.

Kelker said that while most of these bills are unlikely to pass this session, (She called herself the “queen of tabled bills.”) she has hope for the future, and will continue to try to get these ideas written into law.

“I’ll be here in my old lady wheelchair,” Kelker said.

The UM Community News Service is, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism and the Montana Newspaper Association.

Opinion/Letter: Federal school bill ignores complexities

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