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August 18, 2017

Student Financial Aid, Teacher Recruitment and Training In Jeopardy in Federal Budget

Virginia’s public schools and students have long endured resource challenges, many stemming from state or local funding reductions during and after the recession. Now, they may be facing dramatic cuts from the federal government. House GOP leaders have proposed a budget for 2018 that includes large-scale cuts to a wide range of programs helping low and moderate income people. This includes significant reductions to need-based financial assistance for higher education students and funding for recruiting, training, and retaining high quality K-12 teachers.

The proposed federal budget from House GOP leaders slashes federal student financial aid and hits Pell Grants – a key financial assistance program for low and moderate income students – particularly hard. The proposal reduces funding for Pell Grants by more than $3 billion in 2018 after just sustaining a $1.3 billion cut in 2017. The impact is a nearly 20 percent reduction to the maximum Pell Grant amount – dropping it from $5,920 to $4,860. After this cut, Pell Grants would cover just 23 percent of college costs, which would be the lowest share in the program’s history. This is down from 79 percent in 1976.

These cuts further undermine college affordability in Virginia where we’ve seen soaring increases to tuition and fees in public universities. By making these cuts, the federal government is hurting students in Virginia with very modest incomes. About 90 percent of students nationwide receiving Pell Grants had family incomes below $50,000 and 70 percent had below $30,000 in 2015-2016.

The budget proposed by GOP leaders also targets the funding provided to K-12 schools from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). The proposed federal budget reduces USDOE funding by $2.4 billion largely by eliminating teacher recruitment and training services provided under Title II. Under the new federal law – the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) –schools can also use these funds for mentoring and induction programs that can help retain teachers and grow their skills.

These cuts create another hurdle for Virginia schools as they try to manage a nationwide teacher shortage with some of the least competitive teacher salaries in the country. These challenges will be felt most in high-poverty communities like Petersburg, Richmond City, and Danville where schools have the most difficulty attracting and retaining teachers.

Students in struggling schools will be further harmed by a $200 million cut to the 21st Century Communities Schools Program – about a 17% reduction to the program – that provides after school enrichment programs such as literacy instruction for students in high-poverty or low-performing schools.

Cutting Pell Grants, teacher recruitment, and afterschool programs damages people’s access to high quality education programs that give students the opportunity to achieve their goals and career ambitions. It’s critical that Virginia’s congressional leaders reject these irresponsible reductions in support that undermine our students, teachers, and the future competitiveness of our economy.


Chris Duncombe

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