Federal and State Education Funds and the Devos/Trump Education Agenda


Federal Funds   Contrary to popular opinion, the federal government is not the biggest contributor to our local school districts.   On average, federal funds currently make up approximately 9 percent of a school district’s budget. The state of Indiana and local school districts add the rest.  However, almost 10% is a significant chunk especially since most of that 10% comes with important strings attached that require states and school districts to provide programs and services for disadvantaged, disabled and minority students.  One of the biggest concerns about DeVos/Trump is that they would like to remove most or all of these strings and provide the funding (probably a reduced level of funding at that!) to states in what are called block grants.  Then Indiana would not be required to distribute the money to school districts for the current purposes.  In fact, they might not be required to distribute the money to local school districts at all, but could instead use that money for state level programs such as private school vouchers.

These are the primary programs/services funded by the federal government:

1.  Title I, which is included in the Every Student Succeeds Act, is the largest federal K–12 program. Title I provides money to local districts to improve the academic achievement of children in high-poverty schools.

2.  Reading First funds the use of research-based curricula to provide reading instruction for grades K–3.

3.  Improving Teacher Quality grants help pay for teacher professional development and training.

4.  English Language Acquisition programs teach limited English-proficient children English, assisting schools to help these students meet state academic standards.

5.  ESSA programs that improve math and science education; support after-school learning programs; and assist American Indian, Alaska Native, and migrant students.

6.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) assists states and local schools in educating children with disabilities (2005).

State and local funds  Traditionally, states and local communities are charged with delivering the majority of K–12 education revenue.  Each state determines how much it will contribute ranging from 32% to 90%.  As each state came into the union, it stipulated in its constitution its obligation to provide for residents’ education. Most states then assigned much of the responsibility to local school districts, which raised revenue primarily through local property taxes. Property taxes continue to be the primary source of funding for education for most states (not Indiana) and communities, but they aren’t the only taxes collected to fund K–12 education. In many states, a portion of other taxed items may be earmarked for schools. These include sales, motor vehicle, amusement, tobacco, alcohol, utility, and gasoline and mineral taxes. Many states also draw upon the proceeds from state lotteries to bolster their education budgets.   In Indiana, the role of property taxes in funding education has been significantly decreased in the last decade as the state put a cap on property taxes and basically took control of school funding away from local districts and communities.  This has resulted in overall decreased revenue for Indiana’s public schools.  Local districts can still ask their communities to pass limited property tax referendums to make up some of the lost funds.  This greatly favors more affluent communities where people have the income to pay for the referendums and are more likely to pass them.

As of 2012, U.S. Census data showed that just two states had a greater percentage of school spending coming from the state rather than local, federal or other sources than Indiana’s 51 percent. Only five states relied less on local taxes to fund schools. But Indiana also spent less per student on education than the U.S. average, ranking 28th nationally, according to the Census. Of the four states that border Indiana, only Kentucky spent less per student.

What is the DeVos/Trump agenda?

  1. Use federal and state funds to support what they refer to as “school choice”.  This means that more public money will be taken away from traditional public schools and used for public charter schools, private schools including private religiously based schools, private and public virtual schools, and school vouchers.
  2. Privatize even public education by encouraging charter schools that are managed by private for profit businesses.
  3. Vouchers are funded with public dollars and used to pay tuition at private and religious schools.  This includes schools that can be discriminatory in their admission practices and are not required to accept or provide any kinds of services to disabled or disadvantaged students.  Trump/DeVos would like to expand voucher programs to more states and reduce or eliminate some of the restrictions on these programs in states like Indiana that currently have a large voucher program.
  4. Another way that DeVos/Trump may choose to provide public money to private schools is through scholarship tax credits.  These are lucrative tax credits to individuals and corporations donating money for students to use for tuition at private and religious schools.
  5. Trump has proposed 20 billion dollars in federal money to help families move away from public education.
  6. Federal legislation has already been proposed to begin to make the DeVos/Trump agenda a reality.

Indiana School Vouchers

The Indiana school voucher program was started in 2011.  It is one of the largest voucher programs in the country.  Vouchers are now provided for more than 34,000 students.   The cost to the state of Indiana in 2016-2017 is $146.1 million.  Vouchers in Indiana are also referred to as School Choice Scholarships.  In order to qualify for a voucher, a student’s family must fall below a certain income level.  For a family of 4, they must make less than $68,265 a year.  The limit is higher for families with special education students.  In addition to the income requirement, a student must first attend a traditional public school for 2 semesters before requesting a voucher unless they have special needs, live in the attendance area of an F rated school, or have a sibling who is already in the voucher program.   A voucher is a set amount of money based upon the state per-pupil funding in the student’s home public school district and the family’s income.  For example, an Indianapolis public school student’s voucher may be worth $3500 – $6,300.  Indiana’s voucher program does place some requirements on the schools who are approved to accept them.  For example, the schools must administer state standardized assessments like ISTEP.  If a voucher school receives a D or F grade for 2 consecutive years, they cannot accept new voucher students.  Voucher schools do not have to admit all students who apply and can restrict enrollment based on a student’s academic record or attendance at an associated church.   Almost all of Indiana’s 300+ voucher schools are religious schools, mostly Christian.

There is limited research evaluating Indiana’s voucher program or other state’s programs.  A University of Notre Dame study indicates that voucher students in Indiana perform worse in math after they transfer to private schools.  Studies in LA and OH found that students who used vouchers performed worse on standardized tests than their public school peers.  On the positive side, voucher students in Washington DC had higher graduation rates.

In Michigan where DeVos was influential in greatly expanding charter schools, 88% are managed by for profit companies.  DeVos fought against legislation that would have provided increased oversight of these skills and would have prevented low performing charter schools from expanding.  Prior to her nomination for Secretary of Education, she frequently expressed the view that Christian churches should become more engaged in providing education with public dollars.