President’s Budget Proposes Deep Cuts for Federal Agencies Supporting Education Research and Troubling Changes to IES
President’s Budget Proposes Deep Cuts for Federal Agencies Supporting Education Research and Troubling Changes to IES

February 2020

The Trump administration released its budget request for FY 2021 on February 10. As in previous years, the request includes large cuts for non-defense spending and for agencies that support education research and statistical programs. Surprisingly, the budget request also includes a proposal for reauthorizing the Education Science Reform ACT (ESRA), which provides the authority for the research, statistical, evaluation, and dissemination programs within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Several items in the administration’s ESRA proposal are at deep odds with the longstanding recommendations that AERA has set forth for reauthorization and in response to proposed IES priorities. Specifically, AERA has called for the presidential appointment and Senate confirmation of the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as well as federal support for the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS).

“It is not clear why attention is being given to reauthorization in an appropriations bill,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “We have a number of concerns with the proposed plan that merit substantial and separate attention. These concerns include the shifting of responsibility for appointments to the National Board for Education Science from the president to the secretary of education; further reducing the autonomy and authority of the NCES Director by defining the position as an appointee of the IES Director, instead of the U.S. President; and splitting NCES into two centers, which fundamentally changes the role and purpose of the second oldest federal statistical agency.”

“We are troubled by the way these topics are being introduced and the absence of a process for scrutinizing why they are taking such form at this time,” Levine added.

In summary, the recommendations for reauthorization include:

  • Shifting appointments to the National Board for Education Sciences to be made by the secretary of education instead of by the president.
  • Removing the mandates for the number (8) and topics of research and development centers currently in ESRA.
  • Modifying the mission of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance to provide authority for the center to conduct all long-term evaluation studies of Education Department programs.
  • Creating a new center—the National Center for Education Assessment (NCEA)—to administer all assessment activities, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and international assessments with U.S. participation. These activities currently fall under the purview of NCES.
  • Authorizing the IES director to make appointments for all commissioners —which would impact the appointment of the commissioner of NCES, currently made by the president, but would also apply to the proposed NCEA.
  • Repealing language in ESRA that provides authority for IES to support the SLDS program.

Proposed Budget Cuts

Institute of Education Statistics

The proposal includes $565.44 million for IES, a 9.3 percent cut from the FY 2020 appropriation of $623.46 million. As in previous budget requests, the administration targeted the SLDS program and the Regional Educational Laboratories for elimination. The proposed budget also includes $181 million for NAEP, an increase of 18.3 percent over the FY 2020 level of $153 million. The additional funding would address rising costs with the administration of digital-based assessments. A summary of the numbers in the budget request and comparisons with the previous year are included in this chart.

National Science Foundation

The proposed budget includes $7.74 billion overall for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 6.5 percent cut from the FY 2020 appropriation of $8.28 billion.

The NSF’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate fared relatively well compared to other agencies that support education research, with a proposed $9 million (or 1 percent) decrease from its FY 2020 level of $940 million. The proposal includes a doubling of the amount available for the EHR Core Research program within the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings to support research on building the workforce to support the industries of the future and technology use in learning.

The proposal includes $6.21 billion for the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) line, a decrease of 7.8 percent from the FY 2020 level of $6.74 billion. The R&RA line includes funding for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. The request includes three guiding principles for SBE: (1) support fundamental research that advances key national priorities, (2) support the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, and (3) support and advance NSF’s Big Ideas and other cross-directorate activities.

National Institutes of Health

The request would also slash funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) overall, as well as for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). NIH would receive $38.69 billion, a cut of 7.2 percent from the FY 2020 level of $41.69 billion. NICHD would be funded at $1.42 billion, a reduction of 9.1 percent from the FY 2020 appropriation of $1.56 billion. Under child health, the priorities reflect aspects of the NICHD strategic plan, including studies on the transition from adolescence to adulthood, rigorous research to explore the impact of electronic media use in childhood, and basic science research in development from the earliest stages through childhood.

Looking Forward

While the president’s budget request provides insight on the administration’s priorities, Congress ultimately will make the decisions on spending levels for the FY 2021 bills. Over the past few years, Congress increased funding for agencies supporting education research despite the cuts included in the budget requests. However, this will be a challenging year for appropriations as the budget caps for non-defense discretionary spending will only increase by $5 billion. AERA  is supporting several coalition requests related to education research, including $670 million for IES, $9 billion for NSF, and $44.7 billion for NIH.


Advocates Concerned Trump Plan Will Slash Ed. Research, Unmoor Nation's Report Card and Statistics Center,” Education Week, February 12, 2020