Congress must protect education

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

With all the fast-breaking news out of Washington last week, you might have missed one significant threat to national security: The Trump education budget.

Supports for low-income and disabled students would be sacrificed to pump money into Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ crusades, including public funding for private and religious schools.

Paying for college would become even harder for debt-strapped students as the budget, due to be unveiled this week, would shortchange financial aid.

Kentucky’s congressional delegation should be on high alert, ready to protect this state’s youngsters and the schools and programs that serve them.

After all, no nation can be great by substituting political gimmickry for real investments in education or by putting education beyond the reach of ordinary people.

It’s almost as if billionaire DeVos is going out of her way to burden already-struggling low-income students and places — thus widening the already gaping inequality in wealth and opportunity.

Why else propose slashing the Federal Work Study Program, a venerable source of financial aid and work experience, by almost half? Or end loan forgiveness for graduates who take public-service jobs such as rural physicians or public defenders?

The budget being finalized by DeVos’ Education Department proposes both of those cuts and more, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post: After-school programs serving mostly poor children, gifted education, art education, career and technical education, mental-health services, Advanced Placement and math and science courses, even Special Olympics programs — all would feel the knife, a total of $10.6 billion in education cuts.

In Kentucky, more than 110,000 of the neediest post-secondary students depend on Pell Grants, which would get no increase under the DeVos budget, even though tuition keeps rising.

The loss in education purchasing power would force more students to rely more heavily on private loans and leave school with ever greater debt. Student debt also would rise under another budget recommendation for the government to no longer pay the interest subsidy on loans while a student is enrolled in school.

Kentucky has the third-highest student loan default rate . We shouldn’t load more debt on young people who are are trying to get a toehold in the economy.

Meanwhile, the DeVos budget would increase federal funding for charter schools by 50 percent, spend $250 million to promote vouchers directing public tax dollars into private and religious schools, and devote $1 billion to encourage public schools to adopt pro-choice policies.

DeVos has made clear, before and after joining President Donald Trump’s administration, that she thinks public education is a failure — a view her budget would help make a self-fulfilling prophecy. Born and wed into vast wealth, DeVos has no firsthand experience with the equalizing power of education. Her only qualification for education secretary is the millions of dollars she and her family have given to political candidates and causes.

Fortunately, Congress can — and should — reject a shortsighted plan by funding programs that have long had bipartisan support. Nowhere is this support more critical than in Kentucky, a poor state that’s been working hard for a brighter future by better educating our people.