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Education Funding

Biden’s K-12 Budget Seeks $20 Billion for State Incentives to Address Funding Inequity

By Evie Blad — May 28, 2021 6 min read
a young girl wearing a backpack walks into a school building with other children

President Joe Biden proposed an ambitious $6 trillion national budget Friday that calls for dramatic increases in spending on K-12 education, including $20 billion in new incentives to states to raise teacher pay and address inequity in school funding.

The proposal would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget for the coming fiscal year to $102.8 billion, about 41 percent above current levels. The plan, which will likely face resistance from Congress, echoes Biden’s pledge as a candidate to push for a potentially transformational surge of new money for education.

At the core of Biden’s education budget: new “equity grants” that would increase funding for Title I, a grant program for educating disadvantaged students, to $36.5 billion from about $16 billion, the largest increase in the history of the program.

That new funding would “build on the existing Title I program,” flowing through a new formula that would address state and local funding models that “favor wealthier districts over districts with concentrated poverty,” an Education Department document says. That may create some political friction, as have previous efforts to tie strings to new federal funds.

Politicians concerned about equity have long pointed to challenges with the nation’s education funding systems as a concern. Predominantly white districts receive about $23 billion more funding than districts that predominantly serve students of color, said a report from the since-closed EdBuild, an organization Democratic presidential candidates frequently quoted in 2020.

“We know that providing more funds for Title I is going to help schools, particularly those that are underresourced, have more resources to level the playing field,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told reporters on a phone call Friday.

Some lawmakers have said the existing Title I formula does not adequately address funding gaps between schools. Rather than replace that formula entirely, the Biden plan would break out new Title I funds into a separate grant. To access that funding, states would have to submit plans about how they would track and address gaps in their funding systems, ensure teachers are compensated at levels comparable to other professionals with similar education and experience, ensure students have access to advanced coursework, and increase access to early-childhood programs, a proposal from the Education Department says.

A president’s budget proposal helps detail administration priorities, but Biden’s is unlikely to pass Congress without significant changes. The proposal comes as schools make plans to spend nearly $130 billion in COVID-19 relief funds provided through the American Rescue Plan.

Additional education funding is necessary to change patterns of inequality that have persisted in U.S. schools for years, the Biden administration has said. Biden campaigned on plans to triple Title I funding, and the budget is a down payment on that, officials said Friday.

“We need to focus on not only recovering from the pandemic but also look toward our students’ education after the pandemic to ensure there are improved resources to build our education system back better than before,” Cardona said Friday.

Calls for big spending on education

The fiscal 2022 budget proposal echoes the priorities in Biden’s American Infrastructure Plan and its American Families Plan.

  • It seeks $100 billion over 10 years for school infrastructure, $50 billion of it through competitive grants and $50 billion through bonds.
  • It calls for $3.5 billion for the creation of new universal preschool programs within the Department of Health and Human Services and funding for two years of free community college for all students.
  • It would boost funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s primary special education law, to $16 billion, an increase of about $2.7 billion.
  • It would boost funding for full-service community schools, which help coordinate services, like health care and counseling, to meet students’ non-academic needs. Under the budget, federal grants for that program would increase to $443 million from $30 million.
  • It calls for a new $1 billion program to double the number of counselors, school psychologists, nurses, and social workers in schools.
  • It proposes $25 million for a program to identify and implement new strategies that make school buildings more environmentally friendly.

Proposal faces political headwinds

The proposal is likely to face resistance in a deeply divided Congress, where Biden’s party holds a narrow majority and some moderate Democrats have been skeptical of plans to increase corporate taxes to pay for it.

Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called Biden’s proposal a “blueprint for higher taxes, excessive spending, and disproportionate funding priorities.”

“Thankfully, the President’s proposal is simply that —a proposal,” Shelby said in a Friday statement. “In the forthcoming weeks, Congress will exercise its Constitutional power of the purse in crafting appropriations bills that, I hope, will appropriately prioritize our nation’s spending.”

Presidents’ budget proposals are rarely adopted in full. Former President Donald Trump, for example, repeatedly requested dramatic cuts to education spending and once proposed combining a host of specific programs into a large block grant. But Congress rejected those efforts, actually increasing the Education Department’s budget over his tenure.

While the agency’s budget has grown in recent years, advocates for increasing federal education funding have said it still falls short of what’s needed. Education makes up about 2 percent of all federal spending, and K-12 schools are largely funded by state and local revenue. K-12 spending is only one part of Biden’s education budget, which also includes funding for higher education programs.

Education advocacy organizations praised Biden’s budget proposal .

“President Biden’s budget commits much-needed resources to rebuild and reinvest in American public schools and students,” said a statement from Anna Maria Chávez, executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association. She urged lawmakers to pass it to"ensure that our educators have the support and resources they need to help our students heal, learn, and flourish.”

“After decades of underfunding Title I and IDEA, President Biden’s historic investments begin to fulfill longtime federal commitments to our most vulnerable students and those from the most underserved communities,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said in a statement.

Others praised more-specific parts of the proposal.

The Education Trust, for example, an organization that advocates for equity in education, was pleased to see the administration’s plans to use new Title I funding as “a catalyst for state and district leaders to remedy inequities in their existing school funding systems,” Interim CEO Denise Forte said in a statement.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals praised the budget’s call to increase funding for Title II-A, which supports professional development for teachers and principals.

“Research shows a strong correlation between high-quality principals, student achievement, and teacher retention,” NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe said in a statement. “School leaders must be afforded the opportunities for professional learning to grow their skills to ensure equitable learning opportunities for an increasingly diverse student population.”

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