White House Proposes Significant Cuts to Education Programs for FY 2020
March 11, 2019

President Trump today delivered his first budget request under a divided government, and the proposed cuts to higher education and other domestic programs are expected to face strong resistance in Congress. 

The White House is requesting a 5 percent cut across federal agencies except for the Department of Defense as part of its budget plan for FY 2020, which begins on Oct. 1. The president also has asked for $8.6 billion for a border wall, and an additional $3.6 billion in military construction dollars to pay back funds that the administration hopes will be spent this year on the wall. He redirected that money by executive authority after a negotiated bill to fund the remainder of FY 2019 was approved in January.

The president's annual budget request is not an actual accounting of how Congress eventually will fund the government in any given year. Instead, it’s best to think of the president’s proposal as a statement of political priorities. President Trump has proposed deep spending cuts on both domestic programs and entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security in his two previous budget requests, and each time Congress has ignored them. Lawmakers actually provided increases to student financial aid and a substantial increase for research funding in the last two years. 

“This is the third year in a row that the Trump administration has chosen to walk away from adequately investing in student financial aid and life-saving biomedical research,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell in a statement. “If enacted, the president’s proposal would cut over $200 billion in federal student aid and also cuts billions more in funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, threatening the well-being of our nation’s students and citizenry.”

Among the requests for FY 2020, the president’s budget includes the following:

  • Cuts funding at the Department of Education by 12 percent overall. 
  • Cuts nearly $5 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health.
  • Cuts funding for the National Science Foundation by $700 million.
  • Reduces overall Pell Grant funding by $2 billion.
  • Eliminates the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. 
  • Cuts over $207 billion over ten years from student loan programs through changes such as the elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness and the elimination of subsidized loans for low-income students.
  • Proposes to make short-term training programs eligible for Pell Grants.
  • Consolidates the Titles III and V Minority-Serving Institutions programs into a single, formula grant program.
  • Makes significant changes to the structure of the TRIO and GEAR-UP programs and cuts funding by $470 million.

The proposed cuts come just as Congress needs to decide whether to lift spending caps put into place by law in 2011. Unless Congress acts to raise them this year, the non-discretionary spending cap—which covered the Department of Education and research programs funded by other agencies would fall 9 percent, to $542 billion.

The debate on spending and budget caps will be further complicated by negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, which kicked back in on March 2. Through fiscal maneuvering, the federal government can stay solvent until about September, but that is when the debate over how much funding to approve for FY 2020 and whether to extend the debt ceiling may come to a head.