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Obama Proposes Modest Hike in Education Spending for FY 2012

By Alyson Klein — February 14, 2011 7 min read
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The Obama administration just released its spending proposal for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. And once again, education is a bright spot in an otherwise tight budget year.

The Obama administration is keeping domestic discretionary spending level, but it is asking $77.4 billion in education funding, including $49 billion excluding Pell Grants, for fiscal year 2012. That’s a roughly 4 percent increase in non-Pell discretionary funding over fiscal year 2010, the most recent budget enacted.

The proposal comes on the heels of a proposal by House Republicans that would make deep cuts to the department’s fiscal year 2011 budget.

The modest boost the administration is seeking for fiscal year 2012 would include small increases to the two programs distributed by formula to just about every district in the country. The administration is seeking $14.8 billion for Title I grants to help districts cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students—a $300 million increase over fiscal 2010. And it is asking for $11.7 billion for special education, $200 million over 2010.

In a visit today to Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore County, Maryland, President Obama said that while he recognizes the need to rein in federal spending, “we can’t sacrifice our future in the process. That’s especially true when it comes to education.” He said “Education is an investment that we need to win the future.” To make sure the government can afford targeted spending increases, the president, joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said it will be necessary to cut programs that are “nice to have, but we can do without.”

In its proposal, the administration is also seeking $600 million for School Improvement Grants, which would get a new name: School Turnaround
Grants. That’s a $54 million boost over fiscal 2010.

And, as part of its proposal for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the No Child Left Behind Act), the administration is asking for $300 million for a program called Title I rewards, to help give a pat on the back to schools that are making progress in boosting student achievement.

The administration is proposing a new research initiative modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, called ARPA-ED to the tune of $90 million in fiscal 2012.

The administration is also repeating a proposal it made last year, asking Congress to combine 38 programs into 11 broader funding streams. For instance, in this budget, the administration is again proposing an Excellent Instructional Teams program, which would combine smaller programs aimed at improving teacher quality (such as the Teacher Incentive Fund, Teach for America, Teacher Quality Partnerships) into a single program aimed at improving teacher quality. In this case, the administration is proposing $2.5 billion, a roughly $458 million decrease below fiscal 2010, for the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants (a formula program, also known as Title II). The department is also proposing a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program, offering annual grants of up to$10,000 grants to students who attend high performing teacher prep program and agree to teach in high needs schools for three years. UPDATE: The budget also includes $500 million for a competitive program modeled on the Teacher Incentive Fund called the “Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund.” And it includes $250 million for Teacher and Leader Pathways, a competitive grant program to help improve teacher and leader preparation programs.

The consolidation would also combine programs aimed at literacy, mathematics and science education, student health and safety, choice, assessments, and, other areas into broader funding streams.

The administration tried this last year, and Congress didn’t bite. But it’s probably the kind of thing that’s easier to do through an honest-to-goodness reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, not through spending bills.

Unsurprisingly, the administration is asking for another round of the Race to the Top program, funded at $900 million, which would just be for districts and would include a special set-aside for rural districts (no word yet on how much). And it wants$300 million for a new round of the Investing in Innovation grant program, which would include a STEM priority.UPDATE: The revamped Race to the Top will also include a new emphasis on productivity. It’s described in OMB budget documents as “a focus on cost-effective reforms that improve student achievement in an era of tight budgets.”

As noted, the $49 billion the administration is asking in discretionary funding for the department as a whole doesn’t include Pell Grants, which help low-and-moderate income students attend college. The Pell Grant program is facing a whopping $20 billion shortfall in 2012. Why? There’s been incredibly high demand for the grants, since so many workers are seeking post-secondary education to boost their skills in the economic downturn.

To put the program on stronger footing, the administration is proposing a new “Pell Grant Protection Act.” The aim is to keep the maximum grant at the current level of $5,550. To help do that, the administration is seeking changes to the program that will cut costs by $15 billion, including by eliminating the “two Pell” benefit, which allows students to take advantage of the grants year-round. It also would cut interest subsides for graduate students.

This is a very confusing budget year for a number of reasons. Even though we’re now talking about fiscal year 2012 (the year for the Obama budget proposal released today), Congress still hasn’t completed the spending bills for fiscal 2011, which technically started back on Oct. 1, 2010. Most federal agencies, including the department, have been operating under a series of stopgap measures since then. That mean that while Congress tries to work everything out, it has frozen funding for every program at fiscal 2010 levels.

The most recent of those stopgap measures expires on March 4. So even though the administration has started moving on fiscal year 2012, Congress is still finishing up the spending bills for fiscal 2011. On Friday, the GOP proposed a bill that would cut nearly $5 billion from the department’s fiscal 2010 budget.

The administration, In its fiscal 2012 proposal, in addition to seeking small hikes for Title I, IDEA, and SIG, and the new money/changes for Pell, they’re also asking for:

• A modest boost to 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which would get an extra $100 million or $1.3 billion.

• A small hike to TRIO college access programs, bringing them to $920 million, or $67 million more than fiscal 2010. GEAR UP would get the same level as fiscal year 2010, $323 million.

$350 million for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a new program aimed at helping states improve their early-childhood programs. The program has been proposed before, at varying funding levels, but has never actually made it to prime time (meaning been enacted.)

Other programs, though, would be cut, including Career and Technical Education, which would get $1 billion, or $264 million less than last year.

UPDATE:The budget also proposes $150 million for the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative, which helps communities create comprehensive programs modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone. And it includes $750 million for English Language Learners, the same level as last year.

Remember, this is just the administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, what it would want if they had its way. Congress is the branch with the power of the purse, and they will spend all year going over what the administration is asking for.

But my guess is that much of this proposal faces steep hurdles, at least in the House. Remember, on Friday, Republicans hacked away at the department’s budget for fiscal year 2011, cutting even Pell Grants and special education and slashing dozens of programs.

UPDATE: Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee put out this statement, saying that more money for education doesn’t necessarily translate into higher levels of student achievement:

Over the last 45 years we have increased our investment in education, but the return on that investment has failed to improve student achievement. Throwing more money at our nation's broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers. ... It is time we asked why increasing the federal government's role in education has failed to improve student achievement. I look forward to charting a new course in education that ensures Washington doesn't stand in the way of meaningful state and local reforms.

And he said the problems in the Pell program stem from the fact that Democrats raised the level of grants too quickly:

We all recognize the importance of Pell grants, but unfortunately the Democratic-led Congress expanded the program beyond what taxpayers can afford. The Democrats' fiscal mismanagement has put the Pell Grant Program on the path to bankruptcy. We need to make tough choices now to strengthen the program for students most in need.

Politics K-12 Take: After the Republicans’ slash-and-burn proposal, asking for this moderate increase—including more money for Race to the Top and i3, and some brand new programs to boot— is like, depending on your perspective:

a) Hitting up the high school bully for a donation to the band’s trip to Disney World, after he’s taken all your lunch money, broken your glasses and shoved you in a locker.

b) Begging your parents for a pony after they’ve soberly you informed that daddy lost his job and the whole family is going to have to move in with Grandma for a while.

Either way, good luck selling this on Capitol Hill, Ed Department!

UPDATE: Reaction from around the edu-blogsphere is, predictably, mixed. Mike Petrilli at Flypaper is one of the first out of the gate, getting all cynical, thinking Obama’s investment in education is, in fact, insincere and political. In previewing today’s announcement, Kevin Carey at the Quick and the Ed brings a dose of reality to the debate about Pell Grants. Eduwonk also highlights the Pell Grant dilemma facing lawmakers.

Photo: Copies of the U.S. Government budget for Fiscal Year 2012 are stacked up at the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington on Feb. 14. (Alex Brandon/AP)