America’s Budget Priorities Should Put Underserved Students and Workers First

The release of the President’s budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018 has rightly prompted deep concern within the education and workforce development communities, not least for its cuts to programs that benefit low-income and underserved learners and job seekers. The blueprint cuts the budgets of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education by 21 and 14 percent, respectively.

The cut in the Labor Department reduces funding for job training programs that benefit seniors and economically disadvantaged youth. The cut in the Education Department reduces federal work-study aid to college students and diverts 37 percent of the surplus in the Pell Grant program, which provides aid to college students in financial need, to other uses.

The blueprint also eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program; cuts Federal TRIO Programs by more than 10 percent; and cuts GEAR UP—a program long supported by ACT—by nearly one-third. These programs, either directly or through grants to states or organizations, assist economically disadvantaged middle and high school students prepare for, attend, and complete college. For example, in 2013, 75 percent of low-income high school graduates who participated in GEAR UP immediately enrolled in college, nearly ten percentage points higher than all graduates that year, and an astonishing 30 points higher than low-income graduates overall.

As Anthony P. Carnevale and others document in The College Payoff, the higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the payoff: bachelor’s degree holders can expect to earn more than 84 percent more than those with only a high school diploma. In addition, those with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to pay more in taxes and less likely to rely on social services, which helps to support beneficial programs and services at the local, state, and federal levels. So why are programs that empirically benefit individuals and society being cut? Put simply, this is just not good business sense.

The mission of ACT is to help individuals achieve education and workplace success. Far from not helping, the President’s budget blueprint will actively harm. We add our voice to those of the many Republican and Democratic legislators who have voiced their strong opposition to the blueprint and its effects on the education and career preparation of many of the least fortunate among us. Students and job seekers of many ages rely on such services to fund their postsecondary pursuits, embark on a career, and ultimately find their way to realizing their goals.

I sincerely hope that the Administration rethinks its priorities and puts underserved students and workers first.

This piece originally appeared on the ACT website.