President’s Budget Seeks Help for High Schools, But Again Targets Cuts in Many Areas

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The Bush administration released a fiscal year 2008 budget request today that includes new money to help struggling schools and a renewed push to retool high schools, but would provide less money overall for the U.S. Department of Education than a fiscal year 2007 spending bill approved by the House last week.

President Bush requested $56 billion for the department, a 2.75 percent increase over the administration’s fiscal 2007 request of $54.4 billion, but 2.6 percent less than the $57.5 billion the House approved last week for fiscal 2007, which started on Oct. 1. ("House OKs 2007 Budget Hike for Education," Feb. 7, 2007.) The Senate could consider a similar measure as early as this week.

For More Info
Read a summary and highlights of President Bush's spending plan for the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal year 2008. The Education Department also has posted a Feb. 5 press release on the president's budget.

The administration’s request includes a funding boost for Title I grants to districts, increasing the main federal K-12 program from $12.7 billion in fiscal 2006—the last fiscal year for which a budget was completed—to $13.9 billion in fiscal 2008. That would be a 9.4 percent increase. That extra money would be directed to serve low-income high school students, rather than spread out among elementary and secondary schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said today that the increase would help ensure that about 20 percent of Title I funds were spent at the high school level, rather than the current 10 percent.

“We have made, as you know, really good progress, really good strides in our early grades, but achievement has been flat in our high schools,” Secretary Spellings told reporters during a conference call on Feb. 5.

The funding increase for high schools would be used to support reading and mathematics assessments in two additional years, including an 11th grade test to assess college readiness in those subjects. Currently, the five-year old No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test their students just once in high school, as well as in grades 3-8.

“We believe that there is a lack of alignment between our K-12 system and our high school system and we need to provide for more articulation between the two systems,” Ms. Spellings said.

President Bush had proposed extending some NCLB testing requirements to high schools during his 2004 re-election campaign. But Congress never acted on the proposal, in part, because the administration suggested it would pay for the plan by eliminating popular programs, such as vocational education, rather than funding it through Title I, as the new budget blueprint would.

The new budget plan also differs from past efforts, because the additional assessments would not be used to calculate whether a state is making achievement targets, or adequate yearly progress, under the law. The proposal would need congressional approval, which Secretary Spellings said she hoped would come under the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is slated for this year.

But to make room in the budget for some of these efforts, the administration proposes cuts in funding for special education. The budget request seeks $10.49 billion for special education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is about $90 million less than the $10.58 billion Congress approved in fiscal 2006. That would be a cut of just under 1 percent, despite rising enrollment in special education nationwide.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he was disappointed by the administration’s budget request for education.

“I am particularly concerned that the president has once again proposed inadequate funding for the law’s important reforms,” Sen. Kennedy said in a statement today. “He used the same old tactics of robbing other education priorities to pay for his modest increases for school reform. Our schools and children deserve more than accounting gimmicks—they need new resources to make progress on reform.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the extra money for Title I and school improvement would not make up for years of cuts or flat-funding to programs vital to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"This budget stops the downward slide in No Child Left Behind funding that has happened over the last two years, but much more must be done to provide schools with the resources they need to successfully carry out the law,” Rep. Miller said in a statement. “The cuts in this budget for students with disabilities and for young children are reprehensible and undermine the efforts of students and teachers who are working hard in classrooms across the country.”

School Choice Money

The administration also proposes $500 million in new money to help schools deemed in need of improvement under the law. The fund, which was authorized under the NCLB law but has never been financed by Congress, would help schools cover the costs of implementing improvement plans, professional development for teachers, tutoring, or sending students to other public schools. The House included $125 million for the fund in its fiscal 2007 spending bill approved last week.

The budget also proposes a new—and highly controversial—$250 million “Promise” scholarship program that would allow low-income students in struggling schools to attend private schools using federal dollars. In addition, the spending request includes $50 million in new money to establish a competitive grant program to help districts establish their own school choice programs.

Democratic lawmakers, including the education chairmen in both chambers, Rep. Miller and Sen. Kennedy, have decried those proposals as amounting to a federal voucher program. It appears highly unlikely they will be funded.

The administration’s Teacher Incentive Fund also faces an uncertain future. The president’s budget proposes boosting appropriations for the fund to $199 million, from $99 million in fiscal 2006. But that proposal doesn’t appear likely to make it very far in Congress. The House’s fiscal 2007 plan would virtually eliminate the fund, which helps districts finance pay-for-performance programs and teacher-improvement activities.

As announced by Secretary Spellings last week, the administration’s budget also proposes increasing the Pell Grant maximum for the first time in four years, from $4,050 to $4,600 in fiscal 2008. The measure approved by the House last week would raise the Pell Grant maximum to $4,310 in fiscal 2007. Pell Grants help low- and moderate-income students pay for college.

The president’s budget would also bolster Academic Competitiveness Grants, which provide extra money to Pell-eligible students who take a rigorous high school curriculum. The measure would raise the grants from $750 to $1,125 for first year students, and $1,300 to $1,950 for second year students. Those increases would be paid for, in part, by cutting government subsidies to private student lenders.

44 Programs Targeted

As in past years, the administration proposes to pay for some of its spending increases by cutting 44 education programs. Some of those programs are popular in Congress, such as the $273 million Educational Technology state grants, which help districts purchase computers and train teachers, among other uses. The president proposed eliminating the fund last year, but the measure that passed the House last week would restore its funding.

Other programs escaped outright elimination, but were still targeted for drastic reductions. For instance, vocational education programs financed under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act would be cut in half, from $1.3 billion to a little more than $610 million.

Last year, Mr. Bush proposed zero funding for the program, but Congress appears poised to restore that money.

Still, the administration took some perennial targets off the table, including the $303.4 million Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, which helps prepare low-income students for college. The administration had proposed eliminating the program in its last budget request, but Congress has restored its funding.

Vol. 26, Issue Web only

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