Liberal Column

Dunn: President Donald Trump’s education budget cuts and privatization plan add up to a bad deal for Syracuse schools

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Minority students make up 57 percent of Syracuse city schools, and President Trump's budget cuts are putting them at a disadvantage.

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal has garnered significant scrutiny for its expansive cuts to various governmental agencies. But for central New York, it’s the 13.5 percent decrease in funding for the federal education department that could cause the biggest problems.

For Syracuse and other Onondaga County public school districts with significant minority student populations, funding for supplemental programs is essential. The significant education cuts listed in the budget, which was released in late May, call into question the future of the United States Department of Education under Trump’s leadership.

Essentially, these cuts aim to privatize schooling by taking away funds from public schools and repurposing them at charter and private schools. Instead of helping central New York students, these cuts would discontinue supplemental programs like before- and after-school programs geared toward minority and low-income students. But the cuts are really no surprise given his appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

DeVos has been a vocal supporter of privatizing schooling nationwide, calling public schools a “dead end” while advocating for school vouchers. The voucher system would be a federally subsidized program that offers financial assistance to qualifying families for private school tuition. Voucher systems have only ever been implemented on a small scale, so there is no proof DeVos’s plan could work on a federal level.

An emphasis on privatization could have lasting effects on central New York students.

Of president trump's proposed $9.2 billion cut in education funding, more than $433 million will come from New York state public and charter schools

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Trinh Truong, a legislative and policy fellow at the Alliance for Quality Education of New York — a coalition that aims to promote academic equity within the state — said she believes these proposals will hurt minority student groups.

“The education cuts in the Trump and DeVos budget would diminish equal opportunity and increase racial and economic inequities,” Truong said. “The Syracuse City School District has been chronically underfunded for years, and the federal budget will exacerbate conditions in New York’s most-high need and high-poverty school districts.”

That reality is strikingly apparent in central New York. A large disparity exists between public and private schools in the region in terms of both demographics and test scores.

Of all the students enrolled in the 38 private schools in Onondaga County, only 21 percent are minority students, according to the Private School Review. But minority students make up 33 percent of the county’s 120 public schools.Onondaga County's minority student enrollment is 33% in public schools, but only 21% in private schools.

Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

In Syracuse, the disparity is even more apparent. Minority students make up 57 percent of the city’s public school enrollment, but only 28 percent of private school enrollment, according to Private School Review. These statistics indicate that minority students are more disadvantaged when it comes to accessing private schools, a problem that would be exacerbated by Trump’s cuts to supplemental resources, which many students in public schools rely on.

Unfortunately for local students, central New York private schools have outperformed their public counterparts recently. In 2016, nonpublic schools in the region scored higher on state tests than their public counterparts in both English and math, according to New York state education department data compiled on Syracuse.com.

In response to this discrepancy, DeVos might say her voucher system would allow for more students to access private schools. But there is no track record of voucher schools — private schools that accept federal money in lieu of tuition — improving students’ test scores. Many private schools are hesitant to join voucher programs because their ties to the federal government could limit the flexibility independent private schools thrive on. Likewise, there has never been a voucher system in New York state.

Even if a voucher system were to be implemented, it would simply create another avenue for private schools to spend tax dollars without the oversight public schools have.

Private schools are already thriving, so a voucher system would only divert funding and attention from public schools who actually need the help — public schools that should be the Department of Education’s top priority.

Ryan Dunn is a sophomore history major. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at rarozenb@syr.edu.

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