The Trump administration’s proposed budget is looking to make some major cuts to many federal programs that will affect South Florida. The budget proposal, which needs to be approved by Congress, gives a big boost to military spending. South Florida schools, public broadcasting and local arts could feel the effects of the new budget cuts.
Public schools nationwide are bracing for a $9.2 billion cut in federal funding, a 13.5% reduction in the Department of Education's budget.
"Largest reduction ever in the history of the Department of Education, we're told," said Miami-Dade Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Standing at a white board with a marker in hand, former math teacher Carvalho broke down the numbers in President Trump's proposed budget, and he doesn't like what he sees.
"Not a good way to start the budget year particularly when we keep touting the fact that the economy is growing, it's a matter of values, where we place the most important issues, children should come first," Carvalho said, saying now is the time to invest in education, not cut it. "The impact on Miami-Dade is pretty staggering."
Carvalho did the math and says Broward County Public Schools probably stand to lose about $25 million, with the larger Miami-Dade Public School district losing up to $40 million. For example, the budget would eliminate the program that pays for teacher training.
"At a time when we're trying to increase the skill set of teachers, at a time when we're competing with the private sector for the talent to come into the classroom and teach this program that supports the incentivization and recruitment of teachers will disappear," Carvalho said.
The biggest blow, perhaps, is the elimination of federal funds for after-school programs. They are vital, Carvalho says, for providing tutoring, academic enrichment, and they give kids a place to go that keeps them out of trouble. They can be considered juvenile crime prevention programs.
"It creates a big hole that's gonna leave kids on the street with nothing to do and certainly it's going to impact the poorest kids, the ones who are learning English, those who actually need a helping hand," said Carvalho.
The budget does provide money to create a new, $250 million dollar voucher program that allows parents to use public money to go to private schools. It's a priority of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Trump's proposal also shifts some Title I funding from schools to the student, meaning schools in rich areas would get money previously earmarked for schools that serve economically depressed areas. That drew withering criticism from Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten held a national conference call with reporters today.
"The budget also includes both back-door and front-door voucher programs that further the ideological crusade against public education," Weingarten said. "Budgets tell you priorities, and what you have here is a budget that shows President Trump's priority is not public education."
"This probably will dilute investment in high poverty areas like Miami-Dade," added Carvalho, who pointed out slashing or eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the AmeriCorps program will also hurt public schools.
The NEA provides grants that support art and music programs, and AmeriCorps runs the Teach for America program, which sends scores of young adults to work in the neediest schools in the nation.
The budget also cuts programs that help low-income families prepare their kids for college. Carvalho says these students will have a greater struggle to further their educations.
His biggest worry, however, is that something similar to Trump's budget cuts will pass through Congress, at the same time that the Florida Legislature is talking about reduced education funding. While Governor Rick Scott has proposed a 4% increase, which would still be below what Florida spent per-pupil in 2007, the Legislature is talking about cutting public school funds.
"Should these two waves collide, I think we'll be creating a perfect storm," Carvalho warned.
It costs taxpayers $1.35 a year to fund public broadcasting. It may sound like a small amount, but those dollars and cents add up. Presidents as far back as Ronald Reagan have tried to reduce funding to public broadcasting. Trump’s budget proposal looks to cut all funds altogether.
PBS is home to masterpiece classics and educational shows like Sesame Street. It’s how Jeneissy Azcuy learned how to speak English as a child.
“It is America’s largest classroom. It gets kids ready for school kids from the ages of 2 and 8. Parents trust us, “ said Azcuy, who is the communications director for PBS in South Florida. She’s dealing with the possibility of a cut to all federal funding not just at the local station, but across the country. The federal dollars help keep the station on the airwaves at what she calls, a low cost to tax payers.
“Every $100 that the government spends only a penny goes to public media. So, it's minimal,” said Azcuy.
The public broadcasting service has already taken to social media to call on taxpayers to speak out about the proposed cuts. Many have tweeted concerns and fears. Some are calling on the government to "defund it." Others say they can’t live without it.
“Make their voices be heard to the public officials, to the elected leaders and tell them how they feel about it because that makes a big difference, in fact, it makes all the difference in the world,” said Azcuy.
PBS officials believe they have enough support on both sides of the aisle to get at least some of the funding restored.
The president is also looking to make cuts to programs affecting low income families. The proposal would cut funds to help families with energy bills, cut legal aid for the poor and also strip millions of dollars from the Meals on Wheels program.
Volunteers for the program deliver meals to 20,000 children and seniors in South Florida.
“It's a scary time for us that serve the vulnerable and at risk populations,” said Mark Adler, director of Meals on Wheels.
The president's proposal says, in general, the grant money "is not targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results." However, Adler says more than 800 people are on the waiting list to get meals. Volunteer Chris Cottone goes door-to-door delivering meals to the elderly.
“Many are unable to leave their homes. Soon, if you then take away the weekly meal delivery, it would create a lot of stress on them,” said Cottone. Volunteers say they’re getting by now, but worry more cuts, could mean more families on the waiting list.
The art of music is a language that brings us all together -- a melodic expression of our creativity. But, as the Knight Foundation Arts Conference at FIU took place Thursday, President Trump unveiled his budget, which includes the elimination of the NEA.
Artists gathered at the conference – hosting panel discussions on the importance of the arts. Local artist and jeweler Nzingha says our next generation will feel the impact if the proposed cuts are approved by Congress. David Muir, a photo artist, is inspired through the lens of his camera. He believes the drastic cuts will limit people from expressing themselves and reshape the country's cultural infrastructure.
“Without art we lose all of our culture and ourselves," said Muir.
Darren Wats uses visual arts to captivate the public. “Don’t get rid of it. The whole culture is made of the arts,” said Wats. He says the arts not only stimulate the mind, but also the economy -- by creating jobs and attracting tourism.