On Monday, the Obama administration released its budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. $69.8 billion was requested for the Department of Education, a $1.7 billion dollar increase from the previous year. Since Steve already covered some of the budget’s higher ed components, today we’re looking at the hottest K-12 budget items: $14.5 billion for college-and-career focused Title I reforms, $850 million to continue the Race to the Top program, $150 million for the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, $533 million for School Improvement Grants (SIG), and $2.5 billion for an “Effective Teachers and Leaders” grant program. The plan also includes a one-time $30 billion allocation to prevent teacher layoffs through the American Jobs Act, including $5 billion for states to improve (or create) teacher education, retention and pay for performance policies. Three of the administration’s favorite policy tactics were on display in the proposal, reinforcing their strategy to execute the President’s education agenda through the budget process.
- Department of Education programs are being consolidated
The number of programs managed by the Department of Education is planned to decrease dramatically, from 38 programs to 11 competitive grant programs. This is nothing new (Education Week notes that this has been proposed three years in a row). So why not give up on consolidation as a lost cause? There are two major goals of consolidation, as highlighted in the proposal. The first is to eliminate programs that are ineffective, outdated or duplicative. Then, the Department should absorb any critical programs left behind by the cuts. The second goal is to allow states a greater degree of flexibility by substituting targeted programs for general grants. For example, three separate health and safety initiatives currently exist : one to prevent drug abuse, one to encourage counseling and one to promote physical education. The administration is proposing a broader “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Program” to replace the three specific approaches. This would transfer power to states and localities so they could decide for themselves how to use the funds efficiently.
- Competitive Grants are increasingly the Department’s Bread and Butter
Not only does the administration desire to maintain funding for its flagship Race to the Top, i3, and Promise Neighborhood programs (their financing was originally set to peter out with the end of the stimulus), but it will also add the competitive grant ideology to a number of new programs: to encourage states to adopt college- and career-ready standards in STEM education, strengthen learning in the arts, history, economics, and other commonly untested subjects, and “identify, reward, retain, and advance effective teachers, principals, and school leadership teams” in high-needs schools, to name a few. Why the expansion? Whether RTTT states meet their achievement targets in 2014 is uncertain. Implementation delays and setbacks in Hawaii and other states casts doubt on the capacity of states to follow through. But one thing is certain. According to the Race to the Top applications , many states have implemented RTTT reforms into law via their own state legislatures, even those who were not winners. The administration hopes more competitive grants will encourage states to follow suit with other reforms it believes in.
- The administration is going forward with its own overhaul of NCLB
The $14.5 billion dollars proposed for Title I, Part A of ESEA is no trivial sum. President Obama has once again shown his commitment to encouraging high standards by renaming the Title I program “College and Career Ready Students,” aligned with his administration’s goal of having more students college-and career-ready by 2020. Although much of the money would be used to maintain funding for needed programs such as ELL education, the Title I budget request also builds upon the flexibility proposal offered to states through ESEA waivers. States with waivers would have more flexibility to spend Title I dollars on interventions besides school choice and tutoring (20% of Title I funds under NCLB were set-aside for these purposes). The $533 million for school turnarounds would also bolster states’ implementation of differentiated accountability and support systems, rather than the outdated AYP-based system. The proposed budget would also provide $389.2 million for an Assessing Achievement program, providing competitive funding to states that align assessments to college- and career-ready standards and measure student growth. Finally, the plan would take a more active approach to reduce achievement gaps by providing $300 million for a “Title I Rewards” authority that would reward states with funds and spending flexibility for closing achievement gaps.
Written by Education Sector policy intern Rikesh Nana.