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Trump could change how the federal government helps poorer public schools

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Trump could change how the federal government helps poorer public schools

WATCH  | When Trump says he wants to cut the Department of Education’s budget, he's is not talking about removing all federal spending on education. Instead, he’s proposing a shift to block grants, so states can spend federal money as they please.

During the campaign, Donald Trump said that he would rework how the Department of Education funds education. “We want to bring education local so we're going to be cutting the Department of Education, big league," Trump told Circa. 

With a budget of more than $87 billion in 2015, the department is tasked with collecting data and research on American schools, as well as establishing and administering federal education policies. Their largest expenditure aside from Pell Grants is for what’s called Title 1 grants, which helps fund schools in impoverished areas.

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U.S. Education spending

But even with the Department of Education spending more than 14 billion on Title I grants, only about 8 percent of the total money spent on elementary and secondary education comes from the federal government.

So when Trump says that he wants to cut the agency, he is not talking about removing all federal spending on education, instead he suggest block granting the funds so states can spend the money as they please.

"The Department of Education would have a significantly lesser role in the enforcement of these laws, sort of allow these states to take these federal funds and use them in whichever way they see best for their communities, and for their localities," said Mary Claire Reim of the Heritage Foundation. 

We're running our education from Washington, D.C., which is ridiculous, instead of running it out of Miami or running it out of the different places
Donald Trump

Conservatives, like the Heritage Foundation, believe that block granting would reduce the bureaucracy and could save money. But a smaller budget isn’t Trump’s only reason for reshaping the agency.  He believes education policy is best handled at the local level.

Trump's idea to scale back the Department of Education might sound appealing but, previously Title I was block granted but the states didn't always use the money properly.

“Title I dollars were originally block grants," said Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution. "But because there was growing concern that the dollars were not being spent on their intended purposes, later re-authorizations of that law introduced language that basically shifted that funding from a block grant form to a more categorical form.”

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In 1969, the NAACP found that Title I funds were being misused by states. In one example they found that a locality in Mississippi used the funds to train black girls homemaking, while teaching white girls in math and English. 

Presidents can’t make Department of Education funding changes without Congress. Last year Obama needed lawmakers to pass the "Every Student Succeeds Act” which rolled back some of the testing requirements put in place by George W Bush's "No Child Left Behind."

But, the Heritage Foundation said it doesn't think the changes went far enough. "With the 'Every Student Succeeds Act' ... a lot of these regulations and these programs that cost a lot of taxpayer dollars are still in place," Heritage's Mary Claire Reim told Circa.

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President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, and her husband, former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson, left, as they leave Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Over the weekend Trump met with a potential Secretary of Education nominee, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C.'s public schools and founder of StudentsFirst, an education reform non-profit. 

I don't see the Congress being really excited about trying to revisit that law before it is up for re-authorization.
Michael Hansen, Brookings

Trump still has not named a Secretary of Education, and until he does it will be difficult to judge how much of a priority reshaping the Department of Education is for his administration. If Trump is serious about transforming the Department of Education it will take some political capital.

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