Trump Budget Uses Research Evidence to Justify Spending Cuts

President Trump’s full budget proposal for the coming federal fiscal year (FY 2018), which was released earlier today, has shown that evidence can be used not just to justify increased funding for programs that work, but also to cut funding for those that the administration says do not.

During the Obama administration, evidence was typically used for continuous improvement purposes or to shift funding from low performing programs to others that seemed more promising. At the time, conservative analysts criticized the administration for failing to use evidence to reduce the size of government.

For better or for worse, this can’t be said of the new Trump budget, which recommends substantial cuts in Medicaid, SNAP, and several other federal safety net programs. Many of the proposed cuts, which are included in a list of major savings and reforms, are justified by citing what the administration says is insufficient evidence of impact.

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Congress Set to Defund Social Innovation Fund

An omnibus appropriations package that Congress is slated to vote on later this week contains no funding for the Social Innovation Fund.  Barring any last minute changes, this may be the end of the road for this signature evidence-based program.

According to a Politico story about the overall package, it appears likely to be enacted as-is:

The bill clocks in at more than 1,600 pages and Congress must pass it before Friday evening to avert a shutdown, though the bill is likely to pass easily because it contains key boosts to defense and domestic programs viewed by leaders in both parties as vastly preferable to another stopgap measure.

SIF has achieved a number of successes since it was created in 2009. It has also served as a major platform for federal support for pay for success. In the end, however, it was probably too closely associated with President Obama to survive in a Washington controlled by Republicans.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the program would likely be forced into wind down mode.  The fate of existing SIF-funded projects, all of which had at least some funding from other sources, is less clear.

Other evidence-based initiatives in the appropriations bill fared better:


Trump Administration on Evidence

Despite the disappointing news on SIF, the Trump administration has taken some other positive steps on evidence-based policy. In an April 12 memo from OMB, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to the use of evidence in the budget. Key language from the memo is below:

Build and use a portfolio of evidence to improve effectiveness.  Agencies should propose strategies to use limited resources as smartly as possible by asking: what works, for whom, and under what conditions; whether programs are being implemented effectively; and how programs can be improved to produce better results. Evidence may include results from program monitoring and evaluations, performance measures, statistics, and other forms of research and analysis.

The administration’s commitment to evidence may be made more clear in its full budget request for the next fiscal year, which may be coming soon.


Update (5/5/17)
:
  The omnibus appropriations bill has been passed and signed into law. The Senate passed it on May 4, sending it on to the president, who signed it into law on May 5.

Posted in Evidence, Social Innovation Fund

Trump Administration Proposes Eliminating SIF, Cutting Teen Pregnancy Prevention; EIR Unaffected

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and cutting the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program in a package sent to Congress covering the budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, according to a report in Politico.

Congress must pass legislation funding federal agencies by April 28. Overall, the White House is proposing $18 billion in cuts across a variety of federal programs. The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that was passed late last year.

The proposal also recommends cuts for several education programs, but the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program, the successor to i3, is not among them. Some have speculated that the EIR program is being preserved to help fund the administration’s student voucher initiative.

To become law, the proposals must be approved by Congress. However, according to Politico, those prospects appear to be poor:

[T]he latest request for cuts — which would be absorbed over the five months left in the fiscal year — could prove to be too little, too late from the White House. Lawmakers have indicated they are prepared to reject Trump’s calls to gut programs they deem important.

Nevertheless, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “It is a strong signal to Congress of what programs the Administration is willing to cut and as such has implications not only for the current debate on the remainder of FY 2017 funding, but for FY 2018 appropriations.”

Language from the detailed proposal is below. The administration is proposing eliminating SIF and cutting spending on TPP by about half.

  • Social Innovation Fund: “The Social Innovation Fund is not authorized and it is not a member-based program, which puts it at odds with the larger mission of CNCS.  It would be better to build the evidence base for programs through the agencies with expertise in the types of interventions being funded rather than through an agency focused on national service.”
  • Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program: “The TPP program is a competitive grant program that supports evidence-based innovative approaches to teen pregnancy prevention. This level would reduce funding to current TPP grantees by about half. State and local entities can use the evidence base built by the TPP program in their efforts to continue to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.”

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Posted in Education, Evidence, Social Innovation Fund

OMB Memo Signals Possible Elimination of Social Innovation Fund

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is circulating a memo that targets nine federal programs for elimination by the Trump administration, one of which is the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that houses the Social Innovation Fund.

According to The New York Times, which broke the story on Friday, the list represents an opening salvo in a larger effort to reduce federal spending. The Senate confirmed President Trump’s OMB director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), on Thursday.

The programs cited in the memo are:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Legal Services Corporation
  • White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
  • Export-Import Bank
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • Appalachian Regional Commission

According to the story:

While the total amount of annual savings of roughly $2.5 billion would be comparatively small, administration officials want to highlight the agencies in their coming budget proposal as examples of misuse of taxpayer dollars. An internal memo circulated within the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, and obtained by The New York Times, notes that the list could change. Proposals for more extensive cuts in cabinet-level agencies are expected to follow.

The chosen agencies have been asked to respond by Friday, February 24. The list is expected to be finalized by March 13.

The Social Innovation Fund does not appear to have been mentioned by name, but it has been targeted for elimination by congressional Republicans in previous years.  The program was always restored after negotiations with the Obama administration.  The Senate may play a similar role in this year’s expected budget battles.  While Republicans control both the House and the Senate, appropriations bills can be filibustered in the Senate.

Many of the programs on the list have also been highlighted for reductions or elimination by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been influential with the new administration. According to the New York Times story:

Stephen Moore, another Heritage Foundation economist who advised Mr. Trump during his campaign, acknowledged that powerful constituencies were behind many of the programs that are on the chopping block. But he said now that Republicans are finally in control of the government, they must make a valiant effort to fulfill the promises they have been making to voters for years.

“I think it’s an important endeavor to try to get rid of things that are unnecessary,” Mr. Moore said. “The American public has a lot of contempt for how government is run in Washington, in no small part because there is so much waste.”

Results for America is currently circulating a sign-on letter among interested organizations on the Social Innovation Fund and other evidence-based programs. For more information, contact Jeremy Ayers at jeremy(at)results4america.org.

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Posted in Evidence, Social Innovation Fund

School Improvement Grant Program’s Failure Points to Evidence-based Policy as an Answer

Last month Mathematica Policy Research released a tough report on the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The conclusion? After $7 billion spent, the program had no effect on student achievement in some of the nation’s most poorly performing schools.

The study’s results spurred a round of “I told you so” responses from some analysts, including Andrew Smarick of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who suggested that SIG might be the “greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education.” According to Smarick:

The results are almost too much to believe. How in the world do you spend billions and billions of dollars and get no results—especially after Secretary Duncan promised it would turn around 5,000 failing schools and hailed it as the biggest bet of his tenure?

Probably the only thing more remarkable than the scope of this program’s failure is that this outcome was absolutely, positively, unavoidably predictable.

Smarick had previously argued that the answer was to close poorly-performing schools (which was one of the options under SIG, although it was rarely used) and start from scratch. Smarick pointed to successful charter school networks like KIPP as a more promising alternative.

Is Smarick right?  Are turnaround efforts a complete waste of time and money?

Probably not.  There are plenty of reasons to think that this conclusion is premature. First, the Mathematica study’s conclusions do not quite paint the definitive picture of failure among school turnarounds that has been widely reported.  Second, there have been other examples of success in the turnaround space that are not associated with SIG.

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Trump OMB Nominee May Support Reworked Evidence-based Budget Tool

President Trump’s nominee to head OMB, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, indicated at two different Senate hearings on January 24 that he will consider reviving the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which the Bush administration used to examine the effectiveness of federal programs. The prior Bush effort substantially incorporated evidence into its reviews.

According to Government Executive:

[Senator] Portman praised George W. Bush’s Program Assessment Rating for measuring the performance of federal initiatives and tying the results to spending, saying PART was “an enormous undertaking that some thought too time-consuming. But the result was that some programs had their budgets increased, some decreased, and some were eliminated.”

Mulvaney said he admired the quantitative data that PART supplied, adding that “ending PART denied us a tool, and I’m looking forward to adding management tools.”

Reviving PART is a priority for the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been working closely with the incoming Trump administration.

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Reading the Evidence Tea Leaves: Trump Inaugural Address Cites Welfare, Education

What role will evidence play in the new administration?  While that is not yet clear, in his inaugural address President Trump called out two issues where evidence-based policy has been playing an increasingly important role: education and welfare.

While both issues received only short references, their inclusion in a speech that was relatively short overall suggests how important they may be to the new administration.

On poverty, the president cited “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” as a pressing problem and that “we will get our people off of welfare and back to work.” On education, he criticized “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The poverty reference reinforces the expectation that Congress will revisit welfare reform later this year. House Republicans have already laid out an anti-poverty plan that places evidence at the center of its reform efforts.

On education, the administration’s plans with respect to evidence are less clear. The president has previously criticized Common Core and endorsed school choice.

But the president’s inaugural address suggests that ineffectiveness is a central concern, which may elevate the importance of evidence. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind, includes several evidence-based provisions.

Update: Trump was even more explicit in his support for welfare reform in a speech to congressional Republicans on January 26. According to Roll Call:

Trump also touted his interest in overhauling welfare, another key plank of Ryan’s “A Better Way” agenda. “We want to get our people off welfare and back to work,” the president said.

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Posted in Evidence, Politics

Investing in Innovation (i3): Strong Start on Evaluation and Scale, But Greater Focus Needed on Innovation

The Social Innovation Research Center has today released a report examining the early progress of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program. The executive summary follows below.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report is an evaluation of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, a tiered-evidence grantmaking initiative at the U.S. Department of Education.    The program’s primary purpose is to support the development, testing, and scaling of field-initiated programs for high-need students in K-12 education.

Created in 2009, it has provided over $1.4 billion in grants for education projects, including those focused on kindergarten readiness, student achievement, decreasing dropout rates, and turning around low-performing schools. In late 2015, the program was changed as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  However, the renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program has retained most of i3’s original features.

This report reviews the program’s early progress. Its findings are based on a review of publicly available final project evaluations, internal performance reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and interviews with current and former officials from the U.S. Department of Education, i3 project directors, and several national experts in education.

The report includes an assessment of the program’s overall results, its contributions to the knowledge base, and lessons learned from launching, implementing, evaluating, and scaling i3-funded projects. The remainder of this executive summary provides highlights from the full report.

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Posted in Education

Building Evidence in Education: i3’s Past and Future

The following is an excerpt from SIRC’s report on the i3 program. In it, national experts and former Obama administration officials weigh in on lessons learned and the program’s possible future.


EPILOGUE

Viewed in isolation, the i3 program – while imperfect – appears to have been generally effective.  But the newly-renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program does not exist in a silo.

The program exists in a larger policy context – one that includes other federal programs, state and local education agencies, and perhaps most importantly, a political context that has become very different in the aftermath of the 2016 elections.

How does EIR fit into this larger context?  As one administration exits the stage, what fate awaits it in the next one?  If the new Republican administration and GOP Congress choose to keep it, how might it change?


New Administration, New Priorities

In late 2015, Congress reworked i3 as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, bipartisan legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind. The new EIR program now bears a bipartisan imprint.

Still, as a program originally associated with the Obama administration, its fate under the incoming administration is uncertain.  The Trump administration may decide to eliminate it, but it may also see it as useful tool for furthering its school choice and accountability agendas.  Moreover, support for evidence-based policy and tiered evidence initiatives (like EIR) more generally has been growing among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

When asked, Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, began by making the pessimistic case.  “I don’t know what will be done in the new administration,” he said, “but I assume the new administration and Congress will take a hard look at the full array of Obama initiatives, including this one.”

“If i3 had happened outside the context of Race to the Top and had not been locked arm-in-arm with foundations on Common Core, I think I would have looked upon it differently, because historically the idea of public-private partnerships has a lot of appeal.”

“On the other hand, there are folks who are interested in school choice.  They might see it as a vehicle for encouraging more choice programs and expanding efforts to study their impact,” he said.

The president-elect has pledged $20 billion for school choice.  His Education Secretary-designee, Betsy DeVos, is a strong school choice and accountability advocate.   Federal support for charter schools is overseen by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the same division that runs EIR.   As a program that provided support for charter school initiatives like KIPP and New Schools for New Orleans, EIR could be useful to the incoming administration.

Others point to potential support in Congress. “Betsy DeVos will be extremely important, but there is also more appetite on the congressional side than there used to be,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, a former director of the Institute of Education Sciences under President George W. Bush.

“There is still bipartisan momentum to increase evidence use within federal policy,” agreed Martin West, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former senior education policy advisor to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “I think the status of programs like EIR hinges on that broader momentum.”

Support for evidence-based policy has been growing among Republicans in recent years. In the summer of 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of the House Republican leadership made evidence a central component of a policy plan that it ran on in the fall, called A Better Way.   Although the plan did not mention EIR specifically, it endorsed tiered-evidence initiatives in general.

The broader focus on evidence has also drawn cautious support from analysts at conservative organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, and Heritage Foundation.   In November, the Heritage Foundation endorsed the increased use of evidence in the federal budget process.

Given these varied sources of potential support, EIR’s fate is unclear.  If it were to be kept in place, however, how might it be changed?

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Posted in Education