WASHINGTON — Education advocates say President Donald Trump’s budget contradicts his campaign pledge to make college more affordable with its proposed elimination of subsidized student loans and cuts in other programs that help students pay tuition.
The 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, slashes discretionary funding for the Education Department by 13.5 percent and overall funding by 46.9 percent.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that it “reflects a series of tough choices we have had to make when assessing the best use of taxpayer money. It ensures funding for programs with proven results for students, while taking a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.”
But critics said it contradicts President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to make college more affordable at a time when student debt is ballooning.
“Donald Trump ran as a populist, but he is a governing as an elitist and this budget is a clear indication of that,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
When he accepted the Republican presidential nomination last year, Trump had said, “We’re going to work with all of our students who are drowning in debt to take the pressure off these people just starting out in their adult lives. Tremendous problem.”
His first budget seeks to save over $1 billion by eliminating subsidized student loans. For undergraduate students who qualify, the government pays the interest while they remain in college. Students can borrow up to $23,000 during their four years in college. The current interest rate is 3.76 percent.
An additional $859 million would be saved by ending student debt forgiveness for those who enter public service. The program was launched in 2007 with the idea to motivate university graduates to take government and teaching jobs in remote rural areas. Under the program, the remainder of a student’s debt is forgiven after he or she makes 120 qualifying payments, or typically after 10 years.
Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, an advocacy group, said that over 550,000 borrowers are currently enrolled in the debt forgiveness program. The Education Department said those already in the program will not be affected by the change.
“We need to make it easier for people to go to and pay for college, this budget does the exact opposite,” Abrams said.
The budget also proposes to nearly halve the federal work-study program to $500 million. The program provides funding to colleges and universities to create jobs for students, which help them pay tuition.
It maintains funding for Pell grants and makes them available year-round.
Former Education Secretary John King called Trump’s budget “an assault on the American dream” and said it will make it harder for students to attend and finish college. “They are harming the long-term future not just of students but also of the country,” he told The Associated Press.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president the National Education Association, describes the document “a wrecking ball of a budget” and that they would work to defeat it.
For elementary and secondary education, the budget seeks to expand charter and voucher-type programs for private schools around the country. It calls for an additional $1 billion in funds to encourage school districts to advance choice options, $250 million in scholarships to low-income families to attend private schools and $167 million to start or expand charter schools. However, the budget stops short of launching a sweeping $20 billion school choice project that Trump talked about on the campaign trail.
The American Federation of Children, a school choice advocacy group, which DeVos used to head, praised the increase in school choice funding.
“We’re pleased to see the administration put funding muscle behind their pledge to facilitate an expansion of school choice options across the country,” the group said in a statement.