Published Online: February 26, 2010
Published in Print: March 3, 2010, as Congress Begins Taking Stock of Education Budget

Congress Begins Taking Stock of Education Budget

Republicans on the House Budget Committee told U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week that the Department of Education’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget is too large and could add to the federal deficit. Some Democrats argued that the Obama administration’s plan to increase funding for competitive-grant programs could make it harder for school districts to get needed resources during difficult economic times.

Secretary Duncan, who testified before the panel last week, outlined President Barack Obama’s plans to boost the Education Department’s discretionary budget to $49.7 billion, a roughly 7.5 percent hike over the current fiscal year. That would include at least a $3 billion increase for K-12 programs, much of which would go to competitively awarded grants.

The department’s proposed budget is one winner in what otherwise looks like a lean year for domestic spending. President Obama has pledged to cap discretionary spending unrelated to the military or homeland security.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, asked Mr. Duncan why his department should be an exception to the spending restraints. Mr. Hensarling noted that the budget includes new programs that would be paid for out of the mandatory side of the ledger, such as a prekindergarten program.

“The administration should be putting its emphasis on spurring job creation,” he said. “How does this mountain of debt impact job creation, how is it going to impact educational opportunities in the future?”

Investment Touted

But the secretary said he sees education as an investment in the nation’s economic future.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., asked why the administration wanted to concentrate its increased spending on competitive grants as opposed to those awarded by a formula to school districts meeting certain criteria. She said that could lead districts to divert funding that could be used to pay teacher salaries, for example.

But Mr. Duncan said that the department had proposed level funding for programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students, which are slated in the budget for $14.5 billion in fiscal 2011, the same level as this fiscal year.

“Major formula programs are absolutely untouched,” he said. He said putting out more competitive money can help push states and districts to adopt bold policies.

“We’re trying to be creative, trying to have a hybrid” between competitive and formula grants, he said.

Vol. 29, Issue 23, Page 15

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