Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to public education Monday as he addressed the Federal Relations Network, saying it wants to increase federal funding for education even as it challenges states and school districts to “raise the bar” on student achievement.
“At a time when other government expenditures are frozen, the president is increasing aid to education, because the president sees that education is the path to economic security,” Duncan said on the same day that President Obama released a federal budget proposal that raises education funding by $3.5 billion.
School board members have welcomed the money and the administration’s passion and commitment. But during the question and answer period, several speakers reiterated concerns expressed throughout the conference. Why, for example, are states and schools being asked to compete for Race to the Top Funds rather than having this money as part of their regular funding? Is this unfair to poor and rural district don’t have the capacity to compete with their wealthier counterparts?
“We’re not taking money from anybody to give to someone else,” Duncan said, noting that RTTT money is in addition to regular funding. “We’re just interested in two things: closing the achievement gap, and raising the bar for all children.”
Duncan assured a questioner who asked about earlier statements that seemed to support mayoral takeovers, that he was more interested in districts partnering with other private and governmental entities than in having them taken over. However, he said, some extremely low-performing districts, such as Detroit, need outside help.
When a questioner from Houston asked how districts can compete for RTTT funds when their states fail to support them (Texas Gov. Rick Perry has eschewed the program), Duncan recalled his experience as head of the Chicago Public Schools, where he had to deal with a succession of nine state superintendents.
“I come from Chicago, which is [in] one of the most gubernatorally challenged’ states in the nation,” Duncan quipped.
Duncan got his biggest applause when he talked about the administration’s plan to directly fund student loans for college. “We’re cutting banks out of the process,” he said, “which will save us literally billions a year for the next decade.”
Duncan acknowledged problems with No Child Left Behind, saying it unfairly labeled some schools as “failing,” and forced some schools to cut out non-tested subjects such as history and art. He said the administration wants to fix these programs when the law is reauthorized.
“Because NCLB narrowed the curriculum, we’re looking to expand it in again so children get a well-rounded education.”
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor