Obama's Education Budget Focuses on Teachers and Higher Ed

President Barack Obama’s budget, released Monday, built on the education priorities that he laid out during his State of the Union speech last month: an increased focus on higher education and strengthening the nation’s teaching workforce.
by | February 13, 2012

President Barack Obama’s budget, released Monday, built on the education priorities that he laid out during his State of the Union speech last month: an increased focus on higher education and strengthening the nation’s teaching workforce.

For fiscal year 2013, Obama proposed a new $5 billion one-time competitive grant program to fund states and school districts’ efforts to reform and improve the teaching profession. Those reforms would include making colleges of education more selective, improving professional development programs, tying pay to performance and revamping tenure standards.

The budget would also set aside 25 percent (about $620 million) of the $2.5 billion Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants, formerly the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, for teachers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, reflecting Obama's goal of adding 100,000 teachers to those fields in the next 10 years.

The president requested $850 million in Race To The Top funding, up from the $549 million awarded in 2012, and announced that individual school districts would be able to compete for some funding. A portion of that funding would be directed toward early learning initiatives. Obama also pushed for a $12.5 million increase, up to $202.3 million, for research and development of best practices that states and school districts could then put into action.

The president formally asked for $1 billion for a Race To The Top for higher education, focused on ensuring college completion and affordability, which he announced earlier this month. He also called for $56 million for a First In The World grant program, also announced earlier this month, to encourage innovation in higher education. Obama introduced a new three-year, $8 billion program to support the job training efforts of states and community colleges with the goal of putting 2 million trained workers in jobs. The federal work-study program would also see a significant bump in the president’s proposal, up to $1.1 billion for 2013 from $977 million in 2012.

The budget would increase funding for the Promise Neighborhoods programs, intended to allow high-needs communities to combine family services at the school level and institute comprehensive reforms, from $60 million to $100 million. Obama has also asked for $30 billion to modernize school facilities and $30 billion to help states retain teachers (as well as first responders and other public personnel), requests that he initially included in his American Jobs Act proposal.

Funding for most other high-profile programs remains largely flat. Title I grants would be steady at $14.5 billion, although the budget release noted that states that receive No Child Left Behind waivers will have more flexibility in how they spend that money. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state grants would be maintained at $11.6 billion. School turnaround grants would be again slotted for $534 million. Special education state grants would see a slight bump, from $12.39 billion to $12.41 billion. Career and technical education state grants would be reauthorized, a $1.1 billion pool, the same as 2012.

The budget noted that 38 previously separate programs would be consolidated into 11 competitive grant programs. Overall, discretionary education spending would increase from $67.4 billion to $69.8 billion under Obama’s proposal.

The viability of the president’s budget, however, remains in doubt. In theory, Congress would pass its own budget resolution in April before finalizing a budget by Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year. Last year, as has become the norm, a formal budget was never passed. According to National Journal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will not introduce a budget resolution this year at all.

The president’s budget has “become a little bit like New Year’s Eve,” said Dave Adkins, executive director for the Council of State Governments. “There’s always great build-up, but it never seems to deliver. That’s a reflection of the political context.”

Adkins viewed the president’s education proposals as following the same line that many governors have taken with their education programs: making “strategic investments” in education, particularly in higher education, career training and STEM programs. “It’s clear that he believes fervently that education is and remains the great hope for transforming our economy,” Adkins said.

"I don't think there were any big surprises," Lee Posey, senior committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) standing committee on education, said of the budget. She expected the focus on higher education, which would require substantial cooperation from the states, and said she was glad to see funding kept level for programs such as Title I and IDEA, which could be cut under the sequestration scenario. She added, however, that more details would be needed for the competitive grant programs to determine their ultimate effect on states.

Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), expressed frustration, though, that mainstay programs such as Title I and IDEA were being flatly funded, calling both “underfunded,” while competitive grant programs were being given more resources. “We’re putting more money into programs that most schools won’t be able to access,” she said. “Those that need it the most don’t have the staff or the capacity to compete for those funds.”

National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel praised Obama’s plans to overhaul the teaching profession. “The president wants what every parent, student and the NEA want: qualified, caring and committed adults in every school in America to provide the support and programs needed for students of all ages to succeed,” Van Roekel said in a statement.

Below are the Education Department's projections for 2013 allocations by state for key programs, including Title I and School Turnaround Grants.


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