Budget Would Boost Incentive Pay, Turnaround Aid
President Barack Obama’s first budget proposal would boost U.S. Department of Education spending by 2.8 percent and provide substantial resources to turn around low-performing schools, reward effective teachers, and bolster early-childhood programs.
But—not counting massive one-time increases in the recent economic-stimulus legislation—the plan also provides no more than level-funding for special education and, arguably, a cut to grants for districts under the Title I program for disadvantaged students.
The budget would also seek to eliminate 12 programs the White House deems ineffective, including the $66 million Even Start Family Literacy program.
The president’s fiscal 2010 budget proposal, released last week, would provide $46.7 billion to the Education Department, an increase of $1.3 billion over fiscal 2009.
The figure is separate from some $100 billion for education approved as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and does not include a proposed change in the Pell Grant program for college students that would shift it from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the ledger.
Title I grants to districts are slated to get $12.99 billion under the proposal, compared with $14.49 billion in the current fiscal year, or a decrease of 10.4 percent. But that amount doesn’t include $10 billion in one-time funding under the stimulus package for Title I grants to districts.
Some of the money would be redirected to the Title I School Improvement grant program, which provides grants to states to help turn around schools that are struggling to meet student-achievement goals set by the 7-year-old No Child Left Behind Act. The school improvement program would nearly triple from $545 million this year to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1. And that doesn’t include a $3 billion one-time infusion approved as part of the stimulus package.
The proposed shift in funds has advocates for school districts worried about the potential long-term impact on local coffers.
“The dollar amounts that districts build [their budgets] off of has been cut in the president’s budget,” said Mary Kusler, the assistant director of advocacy and policy for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va.
She said districts might have to consider using stimulus money to cover shortfalls in Title I, “lessening the potential impact of [the stimulus].”
But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described the change as a redirection of resources to the schools most in need.
“We’re really trying to focus with a laser-like focus on the lowest-performing schools around the country,” Mr. Duncan told reporters in a May 7 conference call. Under the Obama proposal, 40 percent of the Title I school improvement funds would have to go middle and high schools.
Funding Performance Pay
The budget proposal also seeks a significant increase for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which awards grants to school districts to develop performance-pay programs. The budget would hike TIF spending to $517.3 million in fiscal 2010, up from $97.3 million in the current year. The increase would include $30 million for a national teacher-recruitment campaign. That would be on top of a $200 million one-time increase in the stimulus measure.
Under the proposal, the TIF money could be used to reward school employees other than teachers, such as custodians and cafeteria workers.
President Obama has promoted alternative pay plans for teachers, both on the 2008 campaign trail and in his first prominent speech on education since taking office, delivered in March. But the budget proposal is a sign that the administration is willing to put money behind the rhetoric, said John Bailey, who served as an adviser on education to President George W. Bush.
Marc Egan, a federal lobbyist for the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, said that instead of the bigger increase for TIF, the union would prefer to see an increase for the Improving Teacher Quality State grants, which would receive level funding.
Some advocates for education redesign question whether the funding increases for TIF and the school improvement grants would improve student outcomes.
Charles Barone, the director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee, said he doesn’t think states and districts have a good record on using money for incentive pay and school improvement.
“We would have gotten just as much change on school improvement under the stimulus if we had dropped 30 million $100 bills over the 50 states and said, ‘Do good things,’ ” he said.
President Obama’s budget proposal makes room for a few new programs, including a $50 million initiative aimed at testing strategies for curbing the dropout rate.
Mr. Obama also is seeking $500 million in federal matching funds that would encourage states and districts to devote a larger share of their Title I money to prekindergarten programs. And he has asked for $300 million to help states better integrate early-childhood programs.
The president’s plan proposes level funding for the state grants that help cover the cost of special education. He has asked for $11.5 billion for the program in 2010, the same level appropriated in the current fiscal year. That doesn’t include the $11.3 billion provided under the stimulus measure, which was enacted in February.
The Institute of Education Sciences would a big winner, however. Its budget would increase to $689 million in fiscal 2010, a 11.7 percent hike. Much of that increase would be directed to research, development, and dissemination.
The Obama budget calls for eliminating 12 programs, for a total of $550.7 million in savings. They include the $66 million Even Start Family Literacy program, which helps integrate early-childhood education, adult education, and parenting education programs. National evaluations haven’t shown that the program is effective, according to White House Office of Management and Budget documents.
Vol. 28, Issue 31, Page 20