The Trump Administration released its budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Unfortunately, the budget recommends the elimination of all well-rounded education programs, including Title I-A, Title II-A, and Title IV-A. In their place, the Administration suggests combining these and 26 other K-12 discretionary programs authorized by Congress in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). If this budget became law, almost all ESSA programs would be consolidated into a single block grant, allowing the Department of Education to slash staffing and administrative costs over time and significantly reduce the federal role in education.
The President and Administration officials claim this new “block grant” is an effort to allow local school decision-makers to have greater authority over how federal dollars are spent. What has gone unmentioned by administration officials, however, is that the $19.4 billion allocated to this grant represents a 20 percent cut tothe combined allocation of all 29 programs from the last fiscal year.
Establishing such a large block grant with a 20 percent cut would put school districts in chaos, potentially forcing them to make choices on cutting programs essential to student learning. Furthermore, while past presidential budget requests have exercised influence by proposing increases or cuts in established programs passed by Congress, this budget breaks precedent by requesting a change in the law without Congress already having done so. This weakens the legitimacy of the President’s budget, and the overall budget process, by proposing items that are currently not possible.
Federal funding with fewer strings attached is a legitimate concern that, in part, the passage of ESSA addressed, relinquishing many federal mandates in favor of more modest accountability measures. With little explanation from the Administration to this point, we can only assume that those accountability measures would be harshly curtailed, potentially diminishing access to a quality education for low-income students.
Title IV-A has been zeroed out by the President for the fourth straight year. Five years into the program’s implementation, the Department of Education has failed to collect any specific data on how states and districts are using these funds to support school and student needs. Despite this, the Administration continues to propagate its unsubstantiated narrative that the Title IV-A flexible block grant is spread too thin and ineffective.
Thanks to outside advocacy groups, ample evidence exists that districts are, in fact, utilizing the now $3 billion Congress has invested since FY18 into Title IV-A. Districts are supporting, expanding, and creating new programs that foster a safe and healthy school climate, support effective use of technology, and contribute to a well-rounded education, which includes music. The Title IV-A Coalition, of which NAfME is a leading member, conducted a survey of 1,000 districts across the country. Ninety percent of respondents considered Title IV-A funding “very important.”
Additionally, NAfME partnered with the NAMM Foundation to document $30 million of Title IV-A funds supporting music and arts programs in 26 states. Uses of funds included professional learning, the purchase of instruments and equipment, staffing, curriculum development, instructional materials, and facility improvements. Plans are underway for a second survey of school districts to identify uses of Title IV-A funds specifically for music education.
The President’s budget is a reminder that while music education advocates have helped bolster funding for well-rounded programs over the last few years, these programs remain at risk. It is imperative for NAfME members to continue to share their Title IV stories and write their lawmakers to preserve all well-rounded programs found in Title I, II, and IV. Your efforts have made the difference before, and we call on you again to advocate for music education.
Tooshar Swain, Assistant Director of Public Policy, February 24, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)