Advocates Fear for Imperiled Education Programs

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Although some of the dozen education programs President Barack Obama is proposing to eliminate in his fiscal 2010 budget have been on the chopping block before, Congress has always restored their funding in the past.

But now some education advocates are worried that, since both the legislative and executive branches are controlled by the same party, some programs will actually be scrapped this time.

The president has proposed funding the U.S. Department of Education at $46.7 billion for fiscal 2010, an increase of $1.3 billion, or 2.8 percent, over fiscal 2009. ("Obama Budget Choices Scrutinized," May 20, 2009.)

That figure does not include the 2010 share of up to $100 billion in stimulus spending over two years for public education, or a proposed change in the Pell Grant program for college students that would shift it from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the funding ledger.

The 12 Education Department programs chosen for elimination—ranging in size from the $1 million Foundations for Learning Program, which serves children deemed at risk, to the $295 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grants—would save a total of $550.7 million.

By contrast, President George W. Bush, in his final budget request, proposed the elimination of 47 Education Department programs, for a total savings of $3.3 billion, but much of that funding was restored by Congress.

Representatives of groups with a close interest in federal aid levels say that Mr. Obama’s proposals might carry more weight with a Democratic-controlled Congress than Mr. Bush’s did.

"It makes us more fearful when a Democratic administration zeroes out a particular program," said Deborah Ziegler, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy services at the Council for Exceptional Children, based in Arlington, Va.

Targeted for Elimination

In particular, the CEC is concerned about the potential elimination of the $7.5 million Javits program for education of gifted and talented students. Although the program was slated for elimination for at least six years in a row during the Bush administration, Ms. Ziegler said, Congress always restored the funding, even when Republicans held majorities on Capitol Hill.

The Obama administration argues that the program, which offers grants to about 15 school districts nationwide, is too small to be effective.

"Most gifted and talented programs in the U.S. are implemented without federal support, and the program, by making a handful of grants available each year, does little to increase the availability of gifted and talented programs" or increase program quality, the administration wrote in budget materials.

But Ms. Ziegler said the administration would be scrapping the only federal support for gifted and talented programs, at a time when Mr. Obama is putting an emphasis on high academic standards and rigorous curricula.

Also on the administration’s elimination list is the $66 million Even Start family-literacy program, which Mr. Bush also sought to scrap. The program has not been shown to be effective in evaluations, the Obama administration said.

But Danielle Ewen, the director of child-care and early-education policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy, in Washington, said that her organization was “quite disappointed” with the president’s stance. She said anecdotal evidence shows that the program works well for language-minority families.

The administration also wants to scrap the $295 million Safe and Drug Free Schools State Grants program, which provides formula grants to help schools maintain safe and orderly learning environments. The program “has not demonstrated effectiveness,” according to the Education Department, because the funds are spread too thinly to support high-quality interventions

Instead, the administration proposes adding $110.6 million to the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities National Program, some of which would go to support competitive, rather than formula-based, grants.

Mr. Obama’s budget proposal, which is for the fiscal year that begins this coming Oct. 1, calls for a new, $100 million initiative to help change school culture and climate that is intended to reduce drug use, crime, and violence. The request also includes $40 million for emergency-preparedness plans for elementary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education.

But Mary Kusler, the assistant director of advocacy and policy for the American Association of School Administrators, in Arlington, Va., said she was concerned that elimination of the state-grant program might mean districts would lose money they have been using to prepare for threats such as pandemic flu "at the same time that many school districts are putting those plans into action."

She added that distributing the money through a grant competition could hinder small, rural districts that don’t always have the capacity to apply for such grants.

Other Agencies Affected

Education-related programs in other federal agencies also are slated for elimination. For instance, President Obama is seeking to scrap abstinence education programs, which have been funded through two sources in previous budgets.

A state-grant program has provided money for abstinence education that is combined with state dollars and then distributed to program organizers. For fiscal 2009, that program, called the Title V Abstinence Education Program, was funded at $38 million.

A second source, the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program, has funneled federal money directly to organizations. It was funded at $95 million for the current fiscal year.

Mr. Obama is proposing to replace the programs with a $110 million grant program to fund teen-pregnancy-prevention efforts that have been proved to delay sexual activity, reduce pregnancy, or promote contraceptive use.

A representative from the National Abstinence Education Association said that the programs funded under the existing grant programs have been successful. A large government study, however, showed that students in the programs tended to have sex about the same age as those who did not participate. ("Abstinence Programs Don’t Work, Largest Study to Date Concludes," April 18, 2007.)

Other education advocates say that they were surprised to see flat funding for programs that President Obama championed on the campaign trail. For instance, Mr. Obama, as a candidate, said he would like to double funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which provide grants for before- and after-school programs. The learning centers were financed at $1.13 billion in fiscal 2009, and would receive the same level in fiscal 2010.

Mr. Obama did not specify a timeline for following through on the goal of doubling the money. Still, proponents of after-school programs say they’re disappointed that no increase at all is contained in the 2010 plan, given the president’s campaign rhetoric.

"It feels like we’ve been punched in the stomach," said Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, an advocacy organization in Washington. "I honestly think the administration and the department really support what’s going on in after-school, which is why it’s so surprising not see the funding there."

Ms. Grant said she is "always optimistic" that Congress will decide to increase funding for the program.

Vol. 28, Issue 33

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