Obama to promote more education spending in State of the Union speech
By Nick Anderson and Michael D. Shear
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; 3:19 PM
President Obama will propose a major increase in funding for elementary and secondary education for the coming year in Wednesday's State of the Union address, one of the few areas that would grow in an otherwise austere federal budget, officials said.
The proposal to raise federal education spending by as much as $4 billion in the next fiscal year was described by administration officials as the start of an effort to revamp the No Child Left Behind law enacted under President George W. Bush. Obama will highlight his school reform agenda Wednesday in the address.
The funding would include a $1.35 billion increase in Obama's "Race to the Top" competitive grants for school reform. It would also set aside $1 billion to finance an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Administration officials said they could not provide a direct comparison to current elementary and secondary education spending levels. But Duncan said federal education spending would rise overall by 6 percent. That would apparently be the largest percentage increase since 2003, not counting the huge infusion from last year's economic stimulus law.
Under a spending law Obama signed in December, the Education Department's discretionary budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 is $63.7 billion. That total includes K-12 and higher education. But administration officials have not provided enough detail on their proposals to make precise, year-to-year comparisons.
Education advocates said they welcomed an increase at a time when other domestic programs are getting squeezed, but they said more is needed. State budgets, which account for far more of the public education spending than the federal share, are under enormous pressure because of declining tax revenues. In addition, many lawmakers and interest groups have argued that federal spending on special education and school programs for the disadvantaged has failed to keep pace with demand over the past several years.
"Obviously, you're no longer talking about a freeze, and that's moving in the right direction," said Joel Packer, director of the Committee for Education Funding, which represents dozens of education groups. "But there are still going to be a lot of unmet needs that education advocates are going to be working with Congress to try to address."
Duncan, in a conference call Wednesday afternoon with reporters, called the proposed 6 percent increase "extraordinary."
"It's not just more money," Duncan said. "It's using money more wisely, and in a more thoughtful way. . . . It is a very significant increase in funding, a huge commitment at a time when the economy is so terribly tough."
With the proposal, Obama seeks to turn the page on an era of school reform his predecessor defined as No Child Left Behind.
The 2002 law mandated a huge expansion of standardized testing to measure progress toward closing student achievement gaps -- and imposed sanctions on schools that fall short. That concept has become ingrained in public education, but many experts say the law is overly punitive and ripe for revision.
Enacting a new version this year of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- which Bush renamed No Child Left Behind -- would be a heavy lift as lawmakers face midterm elections. The law and the issues involved -- standardized testing, teacher quality and many facets of school reform -- are complex. Congress last tried to rewrite it in 2007 but fell short.
On Jan. 20, White House and Education Department officials convened key Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to begin developing a road map for revising the law. "It was a very good meeting," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), one of the participants. "It couldn't have been more bipartisan."
The $1 billion fund would be held out as a carrot for a successful legislative conclusion. One top aide to the president described it as an "incentive necessary to implement the kinds of reforms that we believe are necessary."
Obama has encouraged efforts by states to raise school standards and improve testing. Aides said that in the president's State of the Union speech, he will make a forceful call for broad reforms of the way school performance is measured and rewarded.
Obama is expected to propose the consolidation of federal education programs. The budget he submits next week will collapse 38 K-12 programs into 11 and eliminate six programs, Duncan said. Last year, Congress eliminated four education programs.
In higher education, Obama will urge the passage of legislation that would change student lending, eliminating a program that relies on private banks to make federally guaranteed loans. Instead, the government would become the direct lender for all federal student loans. That shift, according to congressional budget analysts, would net the government close to $80 billion over 10 years -- a conclusion sharply disputed by the lending industry. The House passed such legislation in September, but it has been delayed in the Senate.
Obama's budget will propose using savings from the student loan overhaul to expand higher-education grants and community college funding, among other programs.
Senior White House aides said the increase in education funding fits into a broader effort by the administration to focus scarce resources on the nation's long-term economic health.
Obama has signaled that he wants tougher academic standards but more flexibility for schools to reach them. His administration has pushed for innovations such as public charter schools, teacher performance pay and stronger data systems to track student growth from pre-kindergarten all the way to college.
To jump-start his agenda, the stimulus enacted last year funneled nearly $100 billion into education -- an unprecedented increase meant to help prevent layoffs and spur reform.
full article from THE WASHINGTON POST