U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made big news Monday morning when he called on Congress to repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and replace it with legislation that both keeps the annual testing regimen in place and targets federal dollars to the country’s poorest-performing schools.
The sweeping speech, which was heavy on rhetoric and ideals, came at the start of a week in which we expect to see details from Senate Republicans and Democrats regarding their key principles for overhauling the outdated law, a process that’s running full steam ahead at the outset of this new, Republican-controlled Congress
But tucked into Duncan’s sprawling speech was a preview of what we can expect in President Barack Obama’s forthcoming fiscal 2016 budget request—and from the looks of it, he’s going big.
Duncan said that the budget request will include $2.7 billion for increased spending on federal K-12 programs, including $1 billion for Title I grants that fund school districts with large numbers of low-income students.
“I believe teachers and schools need greater resources and funds,” Duncan said. “I believe those in low-income schools should have resources and support comparable to that in other schools.”
Duncan added that some of that funding increase would be used specifically to help states and districts review and streamline the tests they are giving and eliminate those that are redundant. Some of it would go toward teacher and principal preparation.
The budget teaser comes just days after the White House unveiled a plan to make two years of community college free, a likely pricey proposal that will also be included in the president’s upcoming budget request.
If the pitch for increased funding for education is any indicator of how the president would like to fund other federal programs, a budget battle between the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress seems imminent.
For starters, the president probably isn’t planning to adhere to the sequester-level caps in his proposal, which means he would have an additional $37 billion in discretionary spending to play around with, said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Fund, a group that advocates for increased education funding.
For those not so familiar with budget parlance, in 2011, Congress passed a law that set caps on discretionary funding through 2021. By not adhering to the cap, Packer explained, what the president is doing is highlighting the need for Congress to raise the cap.
“It’s helpful to highlight that these kinds of investments are important, but it can’t happen unless Congress raises the cap,” Packer said.
But Republicans have made it clear that they have little to no appetite for the president’s signature competitive-grants, like Race to the Top, let alone new funding for new programs.
In fact, in recent years, House Republicans have drafted budgets that propose further lowering the cap by as much as 8 percent. If they decide to stay on that path, Packer said, it’s likely that Senate Democrats would filibuster or that the president would veto any such spending proposal.
That would set up a scenario requiring House and Senate leaders to negotiate a spending package, similar to the way Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did in 2013.
At the end of the day, budget analysts agree that, other than incremental increases to Title I or special education, Obama won’t come close to getting his wish list.
The president’s budget request is expected out in early February.