WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a devout advocate for school choice, will likely get an earful when she meets with state education officials Monday to discuss investing in the nation’s public schools.

It will be their initial encounter since DeVos’ appointment met with bipartisan resistance, barely winning Senate approval due to her support for charter schools and government vouchers for students to attend private schools.

President Donald Trump’s budget plan, unveiled four days ago, underscored DeVos’ preference, investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs, including $250 million in a new initiative to provide public money for students to attend private schools.

DeVos said the proposal “places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” and represents “the first step in investing in education programs that work.”

Overall, the Department of Education budget is cut by 13 percent, or $9 billion, under the president’s blueprint to downsize the federal government and build up the nation’s military force and border security.

Among reductions are $2.25 billion to help states hire and train teachers, $1 billion for after-school programs and cuts in college aid, including “significantly” shrinking work-study programs. But grant programs for disadvantaged students would receive a $1 billion increase.

The head of an association of state schools officials that’s scheduled to meet with DeVos at their Washington conference said he’s “deeply concerned” about the proposed budget cuts and shifting emphasis to school choice.

“We must continue to invest in our public schools and provide adequate funding so every school has the necessary resources to meet the needs of every child,” Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said in a statement.

Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, criticized the Trump education proposal, saying Pennsylvania is still recovering from state funding cutbacks under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration ”rejects the notion of shifting funds from already under-resourced public schools to fund vouchers for private education,” said Reigelman.

DeVos and other school choice supporters believe vouchers, charter schools, magnet schools and other creative programs can provide students stuck in distressed public schools with opportunities for a better education and greater chance at success in life.

John Schilling, chief operating officer of the American Federation for Children, a school choice group formerly headed by DeVos, said Trump’s budget proposal “included some promising first steps to empower parents.” But, he added, the president should do even more by offering tuition tax credits for families who choose to send their kids to private or charter schools.

Yet an early supporter of Trump, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., called the idea of cutting after-school programs “misguided” in a letter to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

He said the programs assist “working families who rely more and more on afterschool and summer learning programs to effectively balance maintaining a job and raising children in a safe environment.”

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairmen of the Senate and House education appropriation committees, expressed caution about diminishing and eliminating programs helpful to educating the nation’s children.

Blunt acknowledged that generally “there are many concerns with non-defense discretionary cuts” in the Trump budget plan. Cole said Congress should focus on reducing costly entitlement programs to avoid making “painful cuts to good programs.”

Contact CNHI Washington reporter Kery Murakami at kmurakami@cnhi.com.

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