Trump’s Education Budget Cuts Are an Assault on the American Dream
This op-ed was originally published by U.S. News & World Report.
Millions of Americans are engrossed in the NBA Playoffs this time of year. If you are one those people, you may find yourself inexplicably pulling for an upset. That tendency speaks to part of who we are as Americans. We love an underdog. We value hard work, tenacity and grit and believe that those things help us to overcome tough odds.
But there is another aspect of the American ideal, which I would argue is equally central to our core.
Yes; we believe in personal responsibility. We understand America’s self-concept as the place where all people can lift themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and improve themselves.
But we also believe in a level playing field (or court, I suppose, to extend the basketball metaphor). We know our nation’s history has been defined by moving in fits and starts to level that playing field, to overcome systemic biases and structural obstacles.
Ultimately, we recognize that you can’t pull off an upset if the game is rigged against you and that those of us who were not born into privilege sometimes need a boost from our teammates. (That’s it for the sports references.)
And that’s precisely why the Trump administration’s recently released 2018 budget is such a deeply problematic assault on the American Dream. It eliminates many of the critical supports that give people the opportunities and tools to better their lives, particularly through a net cut of more than $10 billion to education.
For example, quality preschool gives children — especially those who are most vulnerable — the strong start they need to succeed in school and in life. But the Trump administration’s budget eliminates the Preschool Development Grants from the Department of Health and Human Services — a program that would have provided thousands more children with access to quality early learning.
After-school and summer programs provide kids with a safe place to spend their time outside of school and can help combat losses in learning over the summer months, which, over time, can cause low-income kids to fall as much as three years behind their better-off classmates. Yet, the budget erases $1.2 billion in federal grants for after-school and summer programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are low-income.
Teachers have an incredible impact on our young people’s growth, achievement and perceptions of their potential. Great teachers literally save lives — my New York City public school teachers did that for me when I lost both of my parents to illness as a child. Yet, the budget strips more than $2 billion of support from educators.
And by raiding nearly $4 billion in reserves from Pell Grants, reducing funds for other college aid programs like work-study, and significantly rolling back federal outreach programs that help historically underserved students to enroll in and succeed in higher education, the budget dismantles the very support systems that can help people seize opportunity and advance their station in life.
The Trump budget does this across the board — not only in education. It cuts funding that helps children access nutritious meals and mental health services, and impoverished people find affordable public housing.
It slashes investments that could build up public transportation that connects people who want to work with good jobs.
It eliminates student loan forgiveness for public servants — including individuals who pursue careers as doctors in rural areas, public defenders, social workers, and teachers.
And it scales back job training programs, including those aimed at helping disadvantaged young people and unemployed Americans.
Let’s be clear: These programs allow Americans to climb the economic ladder. They make us stronger, safer, healthier, and smarter. On the latter, Sesame Street is a great example.
For decades, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and local PBS affiliates have delivered this educational program to children all across the country, with striking results. Research shows the program improves school readiness, particularly for children from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet, the Trump administration’s budget cuts federal funding for CPB and PBS by 94 percent, threatening the distribution of the show to the children who most benefit from its educational content.
Without question, gutting all of these programs hits communities of color hard, when African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately among the poor in our country.
But we know that daughters of a white laid-off steel worker in Appalachia benefit from education, job-training, health, and transportation programs, as do the sons of an African American stock clerk in Chicago. We must reject attempts by some politicians to use coded language around race intended to frame programs as being for “the other.” Investments in opportunity are fundamental to who we are as a country.
The careless, severe cuts in the Trump administration’s budget represent an attack on Americans all across the United States.
By abandoning investments in the supports that can lift up those of modest means, those who have been underserved, and those who are most vulnerable, the Trump administration’s budget denies us, as a nation, the ability to take care of our neighbors.
It takes away supports for the sick, the struggling, and those searching for a second chance.
And it locks people into their current condition.
But the fundamental promise of America is that the circumstances you were born into should not determine who you become. The America I know is one in which an African American, Latino child from Brooklyn who lost both of his parents can — especially through the opportunities that a quality public education provides — rise to become a member of the Cabinet for the president of the United States.
Are we going to be the country in which our people — no matter their background, race or zip code — can make of their lives what they will? Or are we going to be the country that looks at those who need help and says only, “Good luck.”?
For all of our sakes, I hope we choose the former. Our national budget should reflect our shared American belief in equality of opportunity and our shared commitment to building a national future of enduring, shared prosperity.