Education Funding Opinion

Pre-SOTU Blast from the Past

By Sara Mead — January 24, 2011 1 min read
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Tuesday’s State of the Union address has launched a fun game in D.C. education policy and media circles. It goes like this: some folks are reporting breathlessly that the President is going to make education a key theme of the speech, launching a big push to reauthorize ESEA. Then others respond: “that’s all well and good, but really, nothing’s gonna come of it.” Really, it’s a very fun game, at least by the standards of what passes for fun in D.C. these days ;)

But we’ve been down this road before, when President Obama made education a key theme in his 2009 address to the Joint Session of Congress (boring D.C. trivia note: A new president’s first SOTU-like speech is not called the State of the Union). So I thought it might be interesting, rather than discussing what might be in tomorrow’s speech, to look at what the President said two years ago and what has happened since then. Here’s the education section of the 2009 speech:

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America. [SM note: The first two challenges were energy and health care.] In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a pre-requisite. Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish. This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. [SM note: President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included education stimulus funds for K-12 and higher ed, Race to the Top, and the Investing in Innovation program, one week before giving this speech. So the administration's most significant legislation accomplishments in education had already occurred.] We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. [SM note: ARRA also included large infusions of funding for Head Start and subsidized child care. Although the administration sought to sustain these increases after ARRA ends, that appears unlikely to happen. The administration's Early Learning Challenge Grant proposal, the part that was supposed to improve early childhood quality, was ultimately jettisoned, leaving little track record of lasting progress on early childhood.] We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. [SM note: ARRA included substantial infusions of funding for the Pell grant program, and the health care legislation passed last August also included significant student loan reforms intended, among other things. to make college more affordable. But college costs continue to rise rapidly, and the costs of the Pell grant program have skyrocketed, creating significant long-term challenges for the program and education budgets more broadly.] And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress. [SM note: Data to date indicates that ARRA was in fact highly effective in preventing teacher layoffs and reducing job losses in the education sector.] But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. [SM note: The President's FY2010 budget request included significant increases in funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), the final FY2010 budget passed by Congress increased TIF funding from $97.3 million in FY2009 to $400 million in FY2010.] We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. [SM note: Investing in Innovation fund, a part of ARRA] And we will expand our commitment to charter schools. [SM note: Federal charter school funding rose from $216 million in FY2009 to $256 million in FY2010.] It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. [SM note: Are we on track to achieve this goal? Too soon to say, clearly. High school graduation rates are up slightly, but given that educational enrollments are counter-cyclical, this could be just a reflection of the lousy economy rather than actual progress. Achieving this goal will require more--particularly on the higher education reform side beyond financial aid reforms--than has been done to date.] I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy. [SM note: The Hatch-Kennedy Serve America Act was signed into law in April 2009.] These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

Did the administration achieve the goals set out in the 2009 speech? It’s a bit of a strange question, since ARRA, which included the administration’s most significant education accomplishments, had already been signed into law. How will this year’s speech compare to 2009 on education?

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The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.