Trump is proposing heavy cuts to the US education budget – what would they mean for adult learning?

US President Donald Trump is proposing to slash education spending. Although his budget request for 2020 will not be passed, given the Democrats’ control of Congress, it still makes for interesting reading, not least because it proposes to cut over 10% from the Department of Education.

The think tank New America has published a helpful breakdown of the budget proposals as they would affect education. Basically, Trump is calling for cuts to every sector of education, including adult learning.

Within the adult learning spend, Trump is proposing:

  • a small increase in the sum devoted to career and technical education;
  • a slightly larger increase of $60m for adult education leadership programs to support low-skilled adults to enter apprenticeships;
  • a $156m (24%) cut in adult education state grants; and
  • steady funding for apprenticeship programs.
  • So overall, a heavy cut to adult learning including basic skills education, but with some protection for vocational adult learning.
  • As I say, there is no chance of his budget getting through the House; and anyway, most public spending on adult learning in the USA takes place at state and local level, rather than through the federal Department of Education. But Trump’s proposals allow us to judge the substantial gap between his plans for reskilling American workers and his judgement of the adult learning system.
  • The President’s 2020 budget is available here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/budget-fy2020.pdf

    New America’s breakdown of the budget proposals is available here: https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/what-know-about-education-funding-trumps-budget-request/

    Trump’s Workforce Policy Advisory Board could be a model – except that it is advising Trump

    Trump’s creation of American Workforce Policy Advisory Board is being presented as a response to the competitive threat posed by what is sometimes called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The rapid adoption of digital technologies is now being followed by AI and robotics, and like governments across the old industrial nations, the Trump administration has noticed that the workforce has different skills from those demanded in the new economy.

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    The challenge is, as ever, figuring out how to develop the skills that seem to be needed. I say “seem to be” deliberately, as it isn’t at all clear what those skills might be. But again, that is precisely what the new Board is being asked to do: its remit is to propose “ways to encourage the private sector and educational institutions to combat the skills crisis by investing in and increasing demand-driven education, training, and retraining, including training through apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities”.

    The Board will report directly to the White House, through the President’s National Council for the American Worker. Its membership is impressive: as well as co-chairs Ivanka Trump, who is formally described as an adviser to the President, and Wilbur Ross, the US’ Secretary of Commerce, it includes a number of CEOs , a senior trade unionist, representatives of the community colleges and universities, and the director of the Milken Institute, an influential economic think tank.

    Ivanka Trump of course represents a second, and possibly more sure, door to the Oval Office. Her public statement on the Board’s launch was revealing, emphasising as she did the goal of “inclusive growth” in which “all Americans can participate in the opportunities created by the booming economy”.

    So in some ways, the Board is well-placed to deliver. Its focus is on the supply of skills rather than raising demand, which might require intervention in the running of those corporations that are so well represented among its members. Instead it is likely that the business-dominated Board will concentrate on changes to provision (including, interestingly, apprenticeships).

    A supply side focus is of course hardly unique – it is difficult to think of a single government that makes demand-side inteeventions the core of its skills policy. But the US government appears to assume that increasing levels of employment are themselves a signal that it is the remaining jobless and new young workers who need to be fixed, and not the shape of the economy.

    Further, most of the key levers of change – whether in provision or demand – do not lie with the federal government. The states are the key public actors, and many have already shown that they are happy to ignore this federal administration.

    The bigger problem, though, is of course the nature of that administration. On past experience, both the Advisory Board and the National Council will witness a slew of resignations once they have started reporting, with neither the reports nor resignations having any visible effect on policy. Notoriously, this President’s attention shifts elsewhere. Investing in infrastructure and rejuvenating the old industrial regions formed an under-reported (on this side of the Atlantic at least) part of Trump’s campaign promise. I’d like to think that he might see the Advisory Board’s work as a way of delivering higher skills across the workforce, but I’m not betting on it.

     

    No honorary doctorate for Edward Snowden?

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    University Square, Rostock

    The University of Rostock will not be awarding Edward Snowden an honorary doctorate. This case has been dragging through the courts since May 2014, when the University’s Rector rejected a proposal from the Humanities Faculty, giving the grounds that Snowden had no particular scholarly achievement to his credit. The Rector’s decision has now been confirmed by the judge responsible for public administration in the Land – or country – of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Pomerania).

    The Faculty – known in German as the Philosophische Fakultät – is a broad one with specialisms across education, culture, history, literature and languages, and is the largest in the university. Usually in German universities, the Faculty’s proposals for honorary degrees are uncontroversial, and are accepted without change. In Snowden’s case, the Rector announced that as there was no evidence of an ‘outstanding’ or ‘special’ contribution to knowledge, he was blocking the proposal.

    The Education Ministry of the Land, supporting the Rector, argued that the definition of eligibility for honorary doctorates was laid down in the country’s law. The Faculty stood by its original decision, justifying their stance on the grounds of Snowden’s wider social contribution, and took the Rector to the administrative tribunal. It is now considering whether to appeal the tribunal’s judgement, or to nominate the whistleblower once more, this time on grounds of his contribution to knowledge.

    From a British perspective, it is interesting to see how these decisions work out in a different system. The German administrative tribunals have the role of a law court, and are expected to deal with conflicts between citizens and public authorities. As the German public universities are legally part of the civil service, the tribunals can become involved in their governance.

    This is unusual, certainly by the standards of most English-speaking countries, but I wonder whether it would have been enough to block some of the bizarre honorary degrees awarded by UK universities, usually with had the enthusiastic support of the Vice Chancellor. It would certainly have been hard to argue that Donald Trump and Jimmy Saville  made much of a contribution to knowledge, but British universities honoured them all the same.