President Bush’s blueprint for federal education spending in the next fiscal year includes a high-profile plan to boost math and science education, new money for private school vouchers, a renewed push to improve high schools—and the most drastic cut in Department of Education funding in more than a decade.
In his proposed federal budget for fiscal 2007, released last week, Mr. Bush calls for a 3.8 percent drop in the department’s discretionary spending, or $2.1 billion less than the agency received for fiscal 2006, excluding hurricane relief and adjusting for a recent accounting change for financial aid. If approved by Congress, his plan would mean the largest percentage cut for the department since fiscal 1996.
The president would sink new federal education money into fresh initiatives, particularly those intended to strengthen learning in mathematics and science, and provide generally flat funding to K-12’s two largest programs: Title I for low- income students and special education state grants.
President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2007 spending plan would add money for new programs, but would eliminate others.
|High school improvement initiative |
|Education technology state grants |
|K-12 math and science education |
|No Child Left Behind vouchers |
|Parental information and resource centers |
|Help for schools needing improvement |
|Vocational education (Perkins Act) |
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
According to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the proposed shift reflects, in part, new challenges raised by the federal No Child Left Behind Act as its implementation evolves.
“We believe that as No Child Left Behind matures and as schools go into either the need for restructuring or parents seek options outside of those schools, that this is an idea whose time has come,” Ms. Spellings said of that approach during a telephone news conference Feb. 6, as the budget was released.
Many education groups and federal lawmakers, including some Republicans, decried the proposed cuts. Though the proposal would mean a total hike in discretionary spending of 30 percent since 2001, critics note that the increases came largely during the early years of Mr. Bush’s first term, and that Congress often approved more money for education than the president requested.
The Education Department budget for the current fiscal year cut overall discretionary spending by 1 percent.
For the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Mr. Bush has proposed eliminating 42 department programs, for a savings of $3.5 billion. Congress balked at a similar proposal last year.
Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a statement that the president had to make tough budget choices, and “we need to stay focused on whether we will exercise fiscal responsibility or add to the burden of our children and grandchildren.”
But in a strongly worded statement of his own, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that allocates money for education and health, said the president’s budget proposal was going to “require substantial modification by the Congress.”
“It is scandalous to provide insufficient funding for our nation’s two greatest capital investments: health and education,” Mr. Specter said.
Another Try at Vouchers
President Bush’s overall $2.77 trillion plan for general federal spending was unveiled against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, military operations in Afghanistan, continuing worries about terrorism, and a rising federal deficit.
The areas of government identified for major increases include military spending and domestic security, with the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, and Veterans Affairs seeing proposed boosts in their spending levels.
At the same time, the president’s plan would shrink discretionary spending for the Education Department to $54.4 billion, from the comparable level of nearly $56.6 billion approved by Congress for fiscal year 2006.
The $56.6 billion figure for the current year does not include an emergency $1.6 billion in education aid related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but it does include $600 million in student-loan administration money that, because of technical changes in the budget for fiscal 2007, now counts as discretionary rather than mandatory spending.
The fiscal 2007 package proposes a $100 million voucher program, America’s Opportunity Scholarships for Kids, for students in schools slated for restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act. It would provide their parents with $4,000 scholarships to transfer the children to private schools, or $3,000 for intensive tutoring.
“We are very excited about the school choice component,” said Clint Bolick, the president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice and a prominent voucher proponent. “For us, the No Child Left Behind Act has been an empty vessel because there’s no meaningful exit options for kids stuck in failing schools.”
An early push by Republicans to include a private-school-voucher provision in the 4-year-old NCLB law was dropped. Separately, the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, approved by Congress in 2004, provides private school tuition help to some 1,700 students in the nation’s capital.
Congress also approved a voucher component in the hurricane-relief package, which provides money for tuition payments to private schools taking in displaced students.
But it’s unlikely that lawmakers will make room for a national voucher program in the 2007 budget, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the ranking minority member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“You’re cutting education for disabled students, cutting funding to the most economically disadvantaged students, and at the same time you’re going to take $100 million and give it to private schools?” Mr. Miller said in an interview. “It shows such disregard for the public school system.”
Mr. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, aimed at improving American students’ abilities in math and science with the aim of bolstering the nation’s global competitiveness, may have more political viability. (“Bush Proposes Math and Science Initiatives,” Feb. 8, 2006.)
In a speech at the computer-chip maker Intel’s facility in Rio Rancho, N.M., last week, Mr. Bush said the $380 million initiative would help “make sure that we lead the world in innovation and technology development and make sure we have a workforce that has the skill sets necessary to do so.”
The budget proposes spending $90 million to add 70,000 math and science teachers for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and $25 million to attract 30,000 additional teachers in those subjects from other professions through an Adjunct Teacher Corps program.
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The initiative also includes $250 million for Math Now programs to prepare elementary and middle school students for rigorous math courses and to support research-based interventions for students who need extra math help. It would also spend $10 million on a National Mathematics Panel, charged with identifying the best ways to teach the subject, and $5 million for a sweeping evaluation of math and science programs.
“It’s an excellent step by the president, but this is like putting a Band-Aid where you probably need major surgery,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Secondary School Principals and a former assistant secretary of education during the Clinton administration, referring to the math and science initiative.
At a Feb. 9 hearing before the Senate education committee, Secretary Spellings heard generally positive comments about the Bush administration’s proposal in math and science. Federal lawmakers from both parties have proposed several of their own initiatives in that area in recent weeks.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the committee’s ranking minority member, said that “in totality,” the administration’s efforts in math and science were on the right track.
At the same time, he and other members sharply criticized the president’s plans to create a new program while eliminating others, particularly those benefiting students from low-income families. The administration’s spending plan looks like a “shell game,” Sen. Kennedy said.
Dan Lips, an education analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said Mr. Bush should have worked to ensure that more than 100 existing math and science federal education programs are successful instead of adding others. He predicted that the president would have difficulty selling Congress on the measure.
However, Mr. Lips said Mr. Bush may have more influence using the bully pulpit to call attention to the issue.
“This could inspire state and local officials to focus on math and science, and that would be a really healthy thing,” he said.
Key Programs: Flat Funding
While the president’s budget proposes new initiatives, funding for the Education Department’s two largest K-12 programs, Title I and special education state grants, would remain essentially flat. The traditional Title I program, which seeks to address the educational deficits of poor children, would hold steady at $12.7 billion, and special education programs would receive a $100 million hike, or less than 1 percent, from $10.6 billion to $10.7 billion.
With a static pot of money and shifting U.S. Census numbers tracking low-income students, 29 states would see a decrease in the amount of Title I money they receive. Massachusetts, for example, would see one of the largest drops—4 percent—for 2007.
Barbara L. Solomon, the state’s Title I director, said it was frustrating to hear Bush administration officials talk about the importance of improving schools, but then fail to provide the federal financial support to help make it happen.
“Right now, we’re really worried,” she said. “The support that has been put in place to help the most at-risk students is not going to be there anymore.”
In Massachusetts, like other states, the number of Title I schools identified as “in need of improvement” and not meeting goals laid out by the No Child Left Behind Act is on the rise.
President Bush’s spending plan would, however, create a new, $200 million Title I school improvement grant program to help schools and districts identified by the No Child Left Behind law as needing improvement. The money would help states working to provide support to improve schools and districts.
Richard Long, the executive director of the National Association of State Title I Directors, praised the proposed new program, with reservations. “It’s really positive that this issue is in front of the Congress, and that the administration is saying, ‘Yes, this costs money,’ ” he said. “But $200 million spread over the number of buildings in this process is just the beginning.”
On special education, if Congress adopted Mr. Bush’s recommendations, the federal share of payments for educating students with disabilities would drop from 18 percent in 2006 to 17 percent next fiscal year. With increasing salaries and demands on teachers from the No Child Left Behind law, which calls for most special education students to reach the same grade-level targets as other students, some special education advocates say they’re already struggling.
“There’s not enough money to go around now,” said Nancy Reder, the deputy executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “That’s not very much to trickle down,” she said of the proposed $100 million increase.
President Bush has also proposed a $1.45 billion high school initiative, similar to one he included in his 2006 budget plan, which foundered in Congress. The plan would target efforts to help student deemed at academic risk students, and calls for an additional two years of testing in reading and math in high school. The No Child Left Behind Act requires only that high school students be tested once in those subjects.
The initiative’s prospects are uncertain. Mr. Bush has called little attention to it, and proposes funding it by killing off some popular programs, including the $1.3 billion Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Program. That’s disappointing, said Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based group that is pushing to improve high schools.
“He puts the same game plan out there to pay for high school reform, and we all know that’s a non-starter,” said Mr. Wise, a former Democratic governor of West Virginia.
One of the few existing programs to see a boost in Mr. Bush’s proposed budget is Striving Readers, part of his high school initiative, which the president first proposed in his 2005 budget. The proposed 2007 budget would increase funding for the program, which helps improve the skills of struggling readers, by $70 million, from $29.7 million to $100 million.
The programs slated for elimination range in size from the $346.5 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and the $272.3 million Educational Technology State Grants to the small, $9.5 million program for gifted students. Many of the targeted programs have been rated “not effective” by a new government Web site, www.expectmore.gov, that evaluates federal programs across agencies.
Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., said Congress is unlikely to scrap most of the programs Mr. Bush suggested. Lawmakers are weary of trimming education programs, he said in an interview.
“I think the pushback on this is going to be a bit stronger this year,” Rep. Castle said. “There’s been a little too much cutting of late.”
Staff Writers Christina A. Samuels and Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.