President Obama’s latest budget request, unveiled earlier this week, includes a healthy dose of new and recycled proposals at the U.S. Department of Education for improving STEM learning, as well as revisiting plans he’s put forward to target various areas of the curriculum through three “Effective Teaching and Learning” funds.
But what’s striking about those three funds—twice before rejected by Congress—is that the budget requests keep shrinking, especially this time around. The smaller requests also come in the context of a budget plan that overall would increase the Education Department’s discretionary budget by 2.5 percent, to $69.8 billion.
(For the big picture on the budget, check out this EdWeek story.)
Two years ago, Obama requested $450 million for the Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy fund. Last year, it dropped to $383 million. This year? Cut by about half to $187 million.
The new budget suggests that while Obama still appears to like the idea of a “well-rounded education,” perhaps his enthusiasm is dwindling. He’s requesting $90 million for the Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education fund, barely a third of the $246 million last year, and $265 million the year before.
As for the STEM fund, the request is down to $150 million, from $206 million last year, and $300 million in fiscal 2010. But with STEM, this isn’t the whole story. More on that in a moment.
All three Effective Teaching and Learning funds are intended to supply competitive grants to improve instruction. In its budget request, the Obama administration says the funds “would address the need to strengthen instruction and raise student achievement across the core academic content areas, especially in high-need [school districts], by replacing a patchwork of programs and funding streams in current law with three comprehensive, coherent programs that provide increased flexibility for states and [districts] to design, develop, and implement strategies that best meet the needs of their students.”
You can read a more detailed analysis of the president’s budget proposal last year for these funds here.
Back to STEM education. The president’s budget also includes a variety of other plans. For one, he wants to set aside $80 million from a proposed Effective Teachers and Leaders program to recruit, train, and place recent college graduates and mid-career professionals in the STEM fields in high-need schools. In fact, the Education Department developed a special summary of its STEM education proposals.
The administration also wants to create a new, $30 million “evidence-based grant competition” focused on “developing, evaluating, and scaling proven practices that can help increase student achievement in K-12 STEM. And the budget also notes other places where STEM would be included as a priority, such as the Investing in Innovation program and a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program.
President Obama discussed some of these STEM proposals when he hosted his second White House Science Fair earlier this month.
Of course, as I always say when writing about the budget request, it’s important to remember that this is only a request. Some of these proposals have been put forward before and rejected by Congress. And indeed, this year more than ever, political analysts suggest that the president’s budget proposal is as much a political document outlining his priorities in what’s sure to be an intense election year.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.