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Budget Preview: What Will the President’s Spending Request Look Like?

By Lauren Camera — January 30, 2015 4 min read
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Get excited, Politics K-12 readers, because Monday is Budget Day!

That means we’ll be running the numbers on President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request, otherwise known as the administration’s wish list for federal spending. And from what we know so far, the forthcoming wish list is going to include a stable of unicorns lots of education proposals that probably won’t go anywhere.

For starters, as I wrote earlier this month might be the case, the president isn’t planning to adhere to the sequester-level caps in his proposal. He announced Thursday that his budget will include a 7 percent hike in spending above the funding limits, which Congress set back in 2011.

What does that mean?

The short answer is that Obama would have approximately $37 billion extra in non-defense discretionary spending to sprinkle around under such plan.

Reality check: Obama is operating in a world in which the GOP controls Congress.

In recent years, House Republicans have drafted budgets that propose further lowering the spending caps by as much as 8 percent. With the GOP controlling both chambers, that means we’ll probably see more cuts than increases at the end of the day, and it’s unlikely that the president’s shiny new programs will come to life.

What new education programs should we be on the lookout for?

I’m glad you asked!

By now, you know about the president’s plan to make the first two years of community college free. America’s College Promise, as the program is called, would cost about $60 billion over the next decade.

It’s part of a big tax package that would raise the top capital gains tax (which generally affects investors), hike the amount of inherited money that’s subject to taxes, and impose new fees on financial institutions.

(Side note: The president is walking back some of those tax plans, like the idea of families getting taxed on money they take out of their 529 college-savings plan.)

Using the savings freed up by those tax changes, the White House would cover the cost of the community-college initiative, fund a new technical education program, expand eligibility for the existing American Opportunity Tax Credit, and increase an existing tax credit that low-income families receive for child care.

A new education program you may not have heard about that will be included in the budget: Generation Indigenous. The initiative, a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of the Interior, would address barriers to success for Native American youth.

Overall, the president’s budget request will call for $1 billion for Native American education, including $125 million for school maintenance and construction. It also would boost funding for a host of programs that support Native youth and education in Indian Country.

What might Congress OK in the president’s budget plan?

Not much, at least when it comes to the president’s new proposals.

Still, we might see some funding increases.

During the most recent budget showdown, appropriators agreed to slight increases for Title I for low-income schools and districts, and also for the students with disabilities—the two largest federal K-12 programs. So there’s a good chance we’ll see those federal programs come out on top again.

Another side note: In the past, the president has proposed level funding (as in, providing no new money) for Title I and programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in lieu of funding increases for his signature competitive-grant programs, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, Promise Neighborhoods, and the School Improvement Grant.

But the chance that Congress pours federal dollars into those competitions this time around is pretty much zilch. While the latest budget negotiation resulted in minor increases for i3, it entirely eliminated Race to the Top.

It’s likely that congressional appropriators will also bump up funding for migrant children to continue dealing with the impact of the thousands of undocumented children who flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border from Central American countries last year.

And if early-education advocates are lucky, they might eke out some additional dollars for Early Head Start or funding to continue the Preschool Development Grants.

Where do we go from here?

On Monday the White House will unveil the entire fiscal 2016 spending proposal. We’ll take a deep dive into the numbers and have all the specifics for you, so be sure to check back often.

After that, you can expect U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to defend the budget request during House and Senate education appropriations subcommittee hearings.

Then the real work begins as members of each chambers’ appropriation subcommittees will try to draft and pass their respective spending bills before sending them to the chamber in time for final passage and the president’s signature by the end of this fiscal year, Oct. 1.

That’s all in theory, of coruse. The normal appropriations process has eluded Congress for years now.