Education Funding

Obama Seeks to Shelter Education in 2012 Budget

By Alyson Klein — February 15, 2011 8 min read
Copies of the federal budget for fiscal year 2012 are stacked up at the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington on Feb. 14.
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Education was a bright spot in the Obama administration’s otherwise austere fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, which seeks a modest boost for the U.S. Department of Education from the current fiscal year; new money for teacher training, research, and early-childhood education; and a continuation of the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grant programs.

But Monday’s $77.4 billion Education Department proposal came just three days after Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives released a plan that would slice nearly $5 billion from the budget now funding the department. The GOP reductions—which could be voted on by the House later this week—would include cuts to programs long considered untouchable, such as special education and Pell Grants to help low- and moderate-income students attend college.

“It creates a really stark contrast,” said Joel Packer, a veteran K-12 lobbyist who now serves as a principal with the Raben Group, in Washington, and represents the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of education organizations. “They’re completely different visions. … The president is trying to make education a priority within a constrained fiscal reality, and the Republicans are not really making any choices because they’re just cutting everything.”

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that increased spending hasn’t translated, though, into better student outcomes.

“Throwing more money at our nation’s broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “It is time we asked why increasing the federal government’s role in education has failed to improve student achievement.”

In the administration’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, President Barack Obama is seeking $48.8 billion in discretionary money for the Education Department, excluding money for the Pell Grant program. That would be a 4.3 percent increase over fiscal 2010, the most recent budget enacted by Congress.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters in a Feb. 14 telephone briefing that he’s ready to work with lawmakers from all parts of the political spectrum, but said that the proposed cuts to the current budget would hobble the nation’s future economic progress.

“You can’t make cuts that send us in the wrong direction,” he said.

Combining Programs

As in its never-enacted fiscal 2011 proposal, the administration has sought to consolidate 38 programs across the Education Department into 11 broader funding streams. (“Education Budget Plan Wielded as Policy Lever,” Feb. 10, 2010.)

For instance, six smaller programs aimed at improving literacy—such as the $250 million Striving Readers program and the $19.1 million Literacy Through School Libraries program—would be combined to form one broader, $383 million competitive-funding source aimed at improving reading and writing.

The administration’s proposal for fiscal 2012 also includes a $300 million increase for Title I grants to help districts educate disadvantaged students; those grants were financed at $14.5 billion in fiscal 2010. That increase—called Title I Rewards—would offer financial incentives to staff members and students in high-poverty schools. The program would also offer increased flexibility for districts and schools in using federal aid.

The administration is seeking $600 million for School Improvement Grants, which would get a new name: School Turnaround Grants. That would be a $54 million boost over fiscal 2010.

The plan calls for $11.7 billion for state grants for special education—a $200 million hike—and, separately, would increase grants for early-intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families by $50 million, to $489.4 million.

In addition, the administration wants to continue the Race to the Top program, its signature K-12 initiative, which was begun as a one-time effort under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The competitive-grant program would receive $900 million in fiscal 2012 under the president’s proposal.

But instead of recognizing states for embracing certain education redesign priorities—such as teacher performance pay and charter schools—the revamped program would funnel grants to districts. A portion of the money would be set aside for rural districts, although the exact amount has yet to be determined.

The reimagined Race to the Top program would also seek to encourage districts to increase productivity during tight budget times by rewarding changes that improve student outcomes while saving money. In the past, Secretary Duncan has called for steps such as increasing class sizes and revamping teacher-tenure rules.

President Obama is proposing a $300 million continuation of the Investing in Innovation grant program, another initiative under the 2009 economic-stimulus act. The i3 program is intended to help scale up promising school improvement practices through grants to school districts and nonprofit organizations.

New Programs

The budget proposal aims to create several new programs, including ARPA-ED, a research initiative modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would be financed at $90 million in fiscal 2012.

It also would establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund, funded at $350 million, which would provide competitive grants to states to help improve their early-childhood programs.

And it would set up a number of new programs and funding streams aimed at teacher education, recruitment, and effectiveness.

For example, the request includes $500 million for a program called the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, which would be modeled on the current, $400 million Teacher Incentive Fund. It would provide competitive grants to districts for programs that reward and train effective teachers and principals. It would also include $250 million for Teacher and Leader Pathways, a new competitive-grant program to help improve preparation programs for teachers and school leaders.

The Improving Teacher Quality State Grants—a formula program also known as Title II—would be cut to $2.5 billion, from last fiscal year’s level of nearly $3 billion.

To tap money for those formula grants, states would be required to come up with a definition of “effective” and “highly effective” teachers and principals that would be rolled into state and local teacher- and principal-evaluation systems. States and districts would also have to make sure effective teachers and leaders were distributed fairly across schools.

Other teacher-related programs would include:

• Presidential Teaching Fellows, a new program that would receive $185 million in funding for formula grants to states to provide scholarships of up to $10,000 to those who attend high-performing teacher-preparation programs and commit to teaching for three years in a high-need school.

• Hawkins Center of Excellence, another new program, which would receive $40 million to expand teacher-preparation programs at institutions that primarily serve racial and ethnic minorities.

Bolstering Programs

The Obama proposal would seek to put the Pell Grant program—which faces a $20 billion shortfall in fiscal 2012—on a firmer footing, while maintaining the maximum Pell Grant of $5,550. By contrast, the House Republicans’ proposal would cut the maximum Pell Grant by $845.

The administration is slating other programs for increases, including TRIO, a college-access program, which would get $920 million, or $67 million more than the fiscal 2010 level.

Promise Neighborhoods, a program aimed at helping communities create comprehensive support systems modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, would get $150 million, a $140 million boost over current funding levels. And the 21st Century Community Learning Centers would get an extra $100 million, or $1.3 billion.

But the administration is proposing to cut career and technical education, which would get $1 billion, or $264 million less than last year.

Budget Showdown

This an unusual budget year. Because Congress still hasn’t completed the spending bills for fiscal 2011, which started on Oct. 1 of last year, most federal agencies, including the Education Department, have been operating under a series of stopgap measures. The most recent of those measures expires on March 4.

The House GOP proposal for a fiscal 2011 bill funding the government through Sept. 30 of this year would impose deep cuts on education. Title I would be cut by $693.5 million. Special education state grants, which are typically a Republican priority, would be cut by $557 million, compared with its $11.5 billion in funding for fiscal 2010.

The Republican measure would also eliminate more than 15 K-12 programs, including the $66 million Even Start Family Literacy program, the $100 million Education Technology State Grants, and the $180 million mathematics and science partnerships. There would be no new money to continue the administration’s Race to the Top and i3 initiatives.

In addition, the GOP plan would cut Head Start—which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—by $1 billion below the $7.2 billion fiscal 2010 level.

The plan would spare some programs, such as the Teacher Incentive Fund and the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. But the proposed cuts are sure to rankle many in traditional education constituencies.

“Reckless cuts ... would dash the dreams of countless American students and stall the engine that drives our economy,” Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, said in a statement. “We urge House Republicans to rethink their approach and ensure that our students can ‘out-innovate, out-build, and out-compete’ the world.”

But Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, and a blogger for the Education Week website, said the House Republicans “are proposing sensible, moderate trims” to programs such as special education while “going root and branch after a slew of small programs many of us think are of dubious utility.”

Mr. Hess praised pieces of the Obama plan, such as the proposal to use a retooled Race to the Top program to reward districts for creative cost-cutting measures.

But he added: “What the administration has done is duck the hard choices. ... I think it’s just enormously disappointing that [the president] failed to meet the House Republicans in good faith.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2011 edition of Education Week as Obama Seeks to Shelter Education in 2012 Budget


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