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Sometimes Donald Trump says that if elected president, he’ll eliminate the federal Department of Education. However, that goal wasn’t part of the education plan he laid out last month.
So we were curious when Progress Texas, a liberal-leaning education and advocacy group, attributed dire consequences to Trump’s education plan. The group opened a Sept. 20, 2016, blog post: "He doesn't always talk about policy, but when he does -- it's also terrible. Donald Trump's education plan to dramatically slash funding for public education would fire 49,000 Texas teachers."
So, what does Trump want to do?
For our part, we confirmed instances of the Republican presidential nominee saying he could shutter or shrink the 4,400-employee, $68 billion education department. The agency, founded in 1980, says it focuses on distributing federal aid, collecting student performance data and ensuring equal access to schools. In Texas of late, federal aid of late covers more than 10 percent of school spending.
On Fox News Sunday in October 2015, Trump was asked if he would cut agencies. Trump replied that he favors "local education" and that "I may cut Department of Education." In April 2016 on Fox News’ Hannity, the candidate called the department "massive, and it can be largely eliminated." But Trump also said, "you maybe want to have a little bit of tentacles out there."
Then again, Trump’s formal education initiatives, unveiled in September 2016, don’t mention shrinking or eliminating the department, stressing instead his vow to enable children to attend the public, charter or private school of their choice starting by reprioritizing $20 billion in federal funds. Trump didn’t say where the funds would come from; an Education Week news story on his plan said "it's possible he was referring to Title I money for disadvantaged students, funded at about $15.5 billion right now."
Also not in the posted plan: Any statement about cutting teachers in any state including Texas, which has more than 320,000 teachers.
Texas group cites speculative study
When we asked Progress Texas how the group reached its count of 49,000 potentially doomed teachers, Phillip Martin replied by email that the group relied on a report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning Washington-based think tank.
Worth noting: The report, which came out Sept. 1, 2016--before Trump laid out his education platform--draws from Trump the month before telling a reporter for Circa, a video-centric news service, that "we're going to be cutting the Department of Education big league."
Circa's story didn’t quote Trump talking about teachers. But the center’s report states: "To calculate the number of teachers who could potentially lose their job as a result of Trump’s proposal, the author added the most recent average teacher salary by state figures from the National Center for Education Statistics to the representative statistic of costs associated with education and health-services occupations from the Department of Labor. Subsequently, the author divided the total dollar amount each state receives for elementary and secondary education from the Department of Education by the above sum," it says.
We clicked through to an education department presentation of state-by-state aid, finding that for fiscal 2016, Texas school districts would receive $3,228,065,364 across 19 program elementary and secondary education categories topped by $1.3 billion in grants to local educational agencies.
By phone, the center’s Will Ragland told us the center sought to show what the potential impact would be if all Department of Education funds disappeared; the center reached its figure of 49,045 teachers for Texas by assuming the cut funds would play out entirely in lost teaching jobs--a calculation that we confirmed. "His plan wasn’t very specific," Ragland said.
Nationally, federal funds cover about 8 percent of school district budgets and such aid flows to specific programs, such as to benefit low-income students, students with disabilities, computer science programs or early childhood education, according to the Department of Education website.
Experts say it's speculation
Experts we asked about the center’s teachers-vamoosed conclusion saw flaws.
By phone, Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University associate professor, told us that 70 percent of more than $3 billion in federal education funds spent in Texas in 2014-15 went to payroll. But, Taylor noted, that spending could include all positions, ranging from administrative assistants to speech therapists to teachers. In contract, to get to the center’s 49,000 teacher count, Taylor said, you have to inaccurately assume that 100 percent of federal revenues are spent on teacher payrolls--plus that every penny of it would be eliminated under Trump’s plan.
Taylor added that even if Trump moved to shutter the department, it’s unlikely the government would eliminate funding for popular programs that serve low-income children or students with disabilities. "It’s not politically possible," she said by phone.
"I believe the estimates are overblown," she said.
For out-of-state perspective, we reached Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. Welner told us by email he doesn’t "fault the authors of that report for trying to come up with estimates like this, but it’s very important to stress that, in doing so, these authors are not just adding flesh to a skeletal proposal – they necessarily have to add most of the bones."
"To my knowledge," Welner said, "Trump hasn’t provided any specifics at all concerning what he would actually ‘shred’ in the realm of Department of Education programs... So the report authors had to speculate, which means it’s speculative to conclude that the plan ‘would fire 49,000 Texas teachers.’"
Progress Texas said Donald Trump’s plan would "fire" 49,000 Texas teachers.
This claim rests on Trump diverting a great deal of federal aid--something Trump hasn't said he'll do, far as we can tell.
Trump has said he wants to shrink the Department of Education toward more local control. However, he’s offered no specifics on what that would entail. Notably too, the education plan Trump rolled out before this claim surfaced doesn’t mention the agency or intentions of cutting teachers.
We find this claim incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Press release, donaldjtrump.com, "New School Choice Policies Unveiled Today By Donald J. Trump," Sept. 8, 2016
Campaign proposals, donaldjtrump.com, "Education," (accessed Oct. 5, 2016)
News story, "Donald Trump Backs Merit Pay, Funds for School Choice," Education Week, Sept. 13, 2016
Report, Center for American Progress, "Trump’s Plan to Eliminate the Department of Education is Yet Another in a List of Terrible Ideas," Sept. 1, 2016
Blog post, Progress Texas, "Donald Trump's Education Plan Would Fire 49,000 Texas Teachers," Sept. 20, 2016
Blog post, Breitbart.com, "Trump: Department of Education ‘Can Be Largely Eliminated,’ ‘Maybe Want To Have a Little Bit of Tentacles’," April 4, 2016
Blog post, American Enterprise Institute, "Five thoughts on Trump’s education speech," Sept. 9, 2016
Transcript, "Fox News Sunday, Donald Trump talks taxes, trade, 9/11 and why he takes personal shots at political rivals," Oct. 18, 2015
Phone interview, Will Ragland, campaign director for education policy, Center for American Progress, Oct. 6, 2016
Data, Department of Education, "Funds for State Formula-Allocated and Selected Student Aid Programs," accessed Oct. 6, 2016
Overview, Dept. of Education, budget fact sheet, accessed Oct. 6, 2016
Data, Texas Education Agency, District Revenue 2013-2014, accessed Oct. 6, 2016
Data, Texas Education Agency, 2015-2016 Staff Salaries and FTE Counts, accessed Oct. 6, 2016
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