President Joe Biden hopes to expand funding for high-need schools, early childhood education, and students with disabilities in the next fiscal year.
The president released his 2024 budget proposal Thursday, requesting $90 billion to fund education, a $10.8 billion increase from the Education Department’s budget for fiscal 2023, which started last fall. In a March 9 speech about his spending priorities, Biden focused on preschool, including a proposed program that aims to provide all 4-year-olds with access to publicly funded pre-K.
“We all know 12 years is not enough to succeed in the second quarter of the 21st century,” Biden said. “If we want America to have the best-educated workforce, we need to invest in preschool. I’m not talking about daycare. I’m talking about school.”
The budget follows trends of previous years, with the president requesting increases in funding for high-needs schools, students with disabilities, and community schools that provide after-school and adult education programming, as well as health and nutrition services. But it is not as far-reaching as some of his past proposals and falls short of Biden’s previous promises to triple funding for high-poverty schools and fully fund special education.
It’s also unlikely to become reality, given that Republicans recently reclaimed the House of Representatives and will have major say on an ultimate spending plan. But the budget does signal the president’s policy priorities.
Budget asks for smaller increase to Title I than past proposals
The president hopes to increase funding for the Title I program, which aims to direct more funds to districts and schools with large shares of low-income families, to $20.5 billion. That would be a $2.2 billion increase over the $18.4 billion allocated in the 2023 federal budget.
The president last year requested an additional $20 billion for the program, but Congress ultimately approved $1.4 billion in additional funding for the program, which has been criticized by education advocates for failing to prioritize funding for the highest-need schools.
It’s not surprising that the president didn’t request more, said Nora Gordon, an economist and professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. The government used Title I formulas when allocating COVID-19 relief funds, so high-poverty schools are still working their way through that money.
“Politically, I think it’s a hard argument to point to districts that are sitting on all this money that they have not been able to spend and say they really need more money,” Gordon said.
Education Department officials still view the increases to Title I funding as a step toward more funding.
“We are fully committed to pressing Congress and to working in partnership with other allies in Congress to grow the Title I program,” Roberto Rodriguez, the assistant secretary in the office of planning, evaluation, and policy development at the department, said during a call with reporters. “It is a critical foundation for success and for support for students. By any means, we’re not backing away from the President’s commitment to continue to grow that.”
More money for students with disabilities and English learners
The president also proposed an additional $2.1 billion under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which would bring funding for special education programs to $16.8 billion. The program saw a similar increase of $2.5 billion in the 2023 budget.
IDEA Part C grants, which fund early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, would also get an additional $392 million, bringing total funding for the grants to $932 million.
But the IDEA funding still falls far short of Congress’s promise to cover 40 percent of the excess cost of educating a child in special education when it passed IDEA in the 1970s.
Biden’s budget would bring that number to around 13 percent, Rodriguez said. Falling short of the 40 percent threshold is nothing new, as the federal government hasn’t met that bar in decades.
The proposed budget would allocate $304 million to train and retain special education teachers, service providers, and early intervention personnel, doubling previous investments in those areas, Rodriguez said.
“Those are folks that are really on the front line of supporting the academic success, the wellbeing, and the full inclusion of our students with disabilities into the regular classroom,” he said.
English learners also got special attention in the proposal, with a request to increase the English Language Acquisition program to $1.2 billion, a $305 million boost over 2023 levels. It also proposes $100 million to support English learner staffing challenges.
Budget shoots for universal pre-kindergarten
Biden’s proposal also includes a new program that would require states to make high-quality preschool available to all 4-year-olds through a mandatory federal-state partnership.
The program would allow parents to choose a preschool setting, such as public schools, private child care providers, or Head Start. It would also give states the ability to expand preschool to include 3-year-olds once all 4-year-olds have access.
More states have been jumping on board with universal preschool in recent years. The Biden administration hopes the budget would bolster that trend by dramatically expanding preschool access over the next 10 years.
“We know that kindergarten is the sturdy bridge to elementary school success,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a call with reporters. “The problem is too many students are not prepared to cross it.”
In addition to the new program, the proposed budget would allocate $500 million for grants that would create or expand free, high-quality preschool for children eligible to attend Title I schools. The grants would apply to both in-school and community-based preschool options.
The budget also proposes increasing funding for Head Start to $13.1 billion, a $1.1 billion hike over the 2023 budget.
Boosts to school-based mental health and community supports
Biden’s budget expands on his call for more mental health professionals in schools during his State of the Union speech last month.
The proposed budget would provide $578 million to increase the number of school-based counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other health professionals in schools. Some of that funding would also go to colleges and universities to support student mental health and hire more providers on campuses.
That funding is in addition to the $1 billion the federal government gave to schools to address mental health staffing shortages through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
“We must build student mental health and wellbeing into the infrastructure of schools and colleges,” Cardona said.
The full-service community schools grant program, which supports schools with wrap-around services for students and families, would get $368 million under the proposed budget, raising funding for that program by $218 million.
The budget would also provide $100 million for a new grant program that would support voluntary community efforts to develop strategies that promote racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools.
Democrats applauded the budget while Republicans in Congress criticized it for its tax provisions and spending levels. It also received pushback from advocates of afterschool programming, who were disappointed to see the proposal didn’t increase funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides grants to support afterschool programs.
“Because it does not increase funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, it fails millions of students who need afterschool programs now more than ever to succeed in school and to recover from the isolation, trauma, and learning loss the pandemic caused,” Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, said in a statement.
Education organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, expressed their support for the budget, saying it would help address educator shortages, improve mental health services, and set students up for success. The budget includes nearly $500 million in funding for programs to recruit, train, and retain quality educators.
“President Biden gets that these much-needed investments are real solutions that parents and students want and need—as opposed to some politicians who only seek to ban books and defund public schools,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said in a statement.