The White House will focus on education as a crucial part of the nation’s economic recovery plan this year, with proposals to boost K-12 funding, expand federal prekindergarten programs, and make higher education more affordable and accessible to all students.
Although the economy and jobs were centerpieces of his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27, President Obama did not discount the importance of education as part of the foundation for long-term growth.
“In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,” he said. “And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”
Many details of the administration’s plans will not be available until the budget proposal is released Monday. Until then, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said, it’s unknown whether Obama’s proposal for additional funds truly will be able to help public education meet the nation’s economic challenges.
“We hope that his budget to be presented to Congress on Monday will reflect his commitment to pre-k through 12th grade education,” Bryant said after the State of the Union. “Without the resources to deliver on this promise, we will fall short.”
The White House leaked word of the president’s education budget plan the morning of the State of the Union address. If approved by Congress, education would receive a 6 percent increase for fiscal year 2011, an increase of up to $4 billion. That would include $1 billion to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which Duncan vowed will be a legislative priority this year.
“With states in recession, with districts cutting staff, increasing class size just to make break-even budgets, it will be hard to deliver a world-class education,” Bryant said. “But with federal government support, we in public education can rise to President Obama’s challenge.”
The administration’s move to promote education is seen as a shift in strategy after its health-care reform plan was put in jeopardy and polls showed Obama and Democrats’ popularity slipping.
However, Duncan indicated in a Jan. 27 conference call with reporters that the administration is also interested in accountability and results from the increases in funding. Notably, he acknowledged a shift from discretionary funds to competitive grants in the forthcoming proposal. Already, Obama has announced plans to add another $1.35 billion to the Race to the Top program, which is being administered through competitive grants.
Those announcements came just before nearly 800 school board members and school officials gather in Washington for NSBA’s annual Leadership conference and Federal Relations Network conference. Representatives chosen by their state school boards associations will spend this weekend discussing the administration’s proposals, the federal role, budgets, and many other issues before meeting with members of Congress early next week. Duncan will address the FRN attendees on Monday afternoon, just after the budget is released.
Duncan stressed that Obama sees education “from cradle to career,” calling it the critical factor to our economy’s revival and the nation’s long-term success.
College access and affordability as well as prekindergarten education are among the president’s top priorities. Much of the funding for those initiatives would be financed by the direct lending bill, a measure currently being considered in Congress, that would shift all federal student lending to the federal government and save about $80 billion in fees to banks over the next decade.
Duncan also said six programs all deemed duplicative or ineffective — will be eliminated and 38 others will be consolidated into 11. No more details on that teaser will be available until Monday.
Joetta Sack-Min, SBN online editor