Federal spending on education research would see a sizable increase under the fiscal 2001 budget proposal President Clinton delivered to Congress last month, though the level would remain far below that recommended by a White House panel three years ago.
The Department of Education’s main research arm, the office of educational research and improvement, would receive an additional $30 million for research, for a total of nearly $200 million, under the plan.
This comes as part of an overall budget proposal that contains the largest single increase in discretionary spending in the department’s history. The president requested $40.1 billion, an increase of $4.5 billion or 12.7 percent over the department’s discretionary budget for fiscal 2000.
Gerald R. Sroufe, the government relations director for the American Educational Research Association, an independent organization representing more than 22,000 members, described the administration’s proposal for research in OERI as “reasonable.” He observed that the OERI law is currently up for reauthorization, adding that Congress would be unlikely to add more than $30 million before taking a broad look at the office’s mission.
He also said that big spending on education research is not usually very popular on Capitol Hill. As lawmakers view it, he said, “the trade-off is between money for research and money for programs.”
The president requested a $55 million increase for the OERI research budget in fiscal 2000. But Congress balked at that figure, ultimately raising the budget by $25 million, to $168.6 million. The year before, Mr. Clinton requested a $50 million increase; Congress raised it instead by $15 million.
Mr. Sroufe and others pointed out that the administration’s current request is far below the $1.5 billion annual research budget recommended by a panel of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology in March 1997. That panel called for phasing in a dramatically increased level of spending “aimed specifically at improving the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of K-12 education in the United States.”
C. Kent McGuire, the assistant secretary for OERI, said department officials would like to have asked for a larger increase this year, “but there are any number of priorities in the department.”
The OERI is not the only place to look for federal spending on education-related research, Mr. McGuire noted.
Under the president’s fiscal 2001 budget, the Education Department’s office of special education and rehabilitative services, for example, would spend $30.2 million for research to improve educational services for children with disabilities. That would be $2.6 million less than this year.
Also, the president’s budget request for OSERS contains $100 million for the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, up from $86.5 million this year.
As for other agencies, the administration’s proposed budget for the National Science Foundation contains $55.2 million in education-related research, an increase of $6.1 million over the current fiscal year. Much of the research addresses science and mathematics instruction.
And the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development is planning to spend $32.5 million in fiscal 2001 to support research on reading, up from $24 million this year. The institute, not Congress, sets the research spending levels within its overall budget.
The OERI research budget covers everything from regional educational laboratories to university-based centers and various dissemination activities. Topics vary widely, ranging from efforts to improve reading, math, and science education to studies of existing school- improvement models.
Mr. McGuire said this year’s budget is linked to changes the department is proposing for the OERI’s reauthorization to improve the office’s processes for conducting research.
But C. Todd Jones, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a trade group for the education research and development industry, said he is concerned that one key change in the budget proposal could leave funding for certain priorities vulnerable. The president’s plan would replace the three current line items of funding that now make up the research budget—national education research institutes, regional educational laboratories, and national dissemination activities—with one line item for “research, development, and dissemination.”
“By having a consolidated line item, it doesn’t give Congress the ability to set out” specific amounts for each category, Mr. Jones said.
Mr. McGuire said the change was designed to “simplify and streamline” the presentation of the budget, and that “no one should read into that that we are somehow consolidating resources.” He added that supporting budget documents outline specific funding levels the department would provide for various activities.
As always, the fate of these proposed changes, as well as the funding levels, lies with Congress. Dan Lara, a spokesman for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, cautioned that lawmakers will have a lot of questions “about funding that kind of increase without putting some more quality control [measures in place] to make sure that research meets high standards.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as President Seeks Bigger Budget For Research