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Key Investments, Important Reforms, and Tough Choices for Education

Analysis of the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

SOURCE: AP/Alex Brandon

President Barack Obama sits with Education Secretary Arne Duncan speak to students at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia earlier this year.

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The president’s announcement of a proposed $3 billion increase in education funding can go a long way in boosting the nation’s economic health and helping prepare all students for the rigors of college and the modern workplace. Indeed, this is one of the largest funding increases for federal education programs ever requested—a large and important investment in our nation’s troubled school system. But more importantly, the president’s budget focuses on program outcomes and makes a greater investment in competitive grant programs that support innovative strategies for boosting student achievement.

This budget also makes clear that the president hopes to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and he plans to provide an additional $1 billion in funding toward education if Congress passes the law. As we’ve noted before, the No Child Left Behind Act was an important step in closing academic achievement gaps, but it must be restructured to reflect the growing consensus for common core standards, improved teacher effectiveness, and a more sophisticated accountability system that can more effectively distinguish between chronically ineffective schools and less troubled schools.

Improving access to great teachers and leaders

The president’s budget rightly prioritizes investments in improving access to great teachers and school leaders through a greater investment in competitive grant programs that support promising practices. The budget invests almost a billion dollars in a new program that will increase the number of effective teachers and principals in high-needs schools. The initiative resembles a proposal that CAP offered in a January 2009 report.

The Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund will offer competitive awards to states and districts that take performance-based approaches to recruiting, retaining, and rewarding effective educators, much like the existing Teacher Incentive Fund. This shows that the administration is focused on what works. As CAP’s Robin Chait and Raegen Miller have argued, TIF is an important and promising way to improve the way that states and districts compensate talented educators.

The budget slightly decreases funding for Title II of ESEA by $400 million. Title II is intended to improve teacher and principal quality and would require states to take Title II formula funds to develop strong teacher evaluation systems. These are good changes since there is little evidence that the current Title II program is actually improving teacher quality, and a great deal of recent research has highlighted the inadequacy of teacher evaluation systems. Improvements to these systems are a necessary foundation for improvements to many other teacher-related policies, such as compensation systems and tenure processes.

The budget also offers $405 million in funding for a new Teacher and Leader Pathways program that consolidates existing pathways programs to support competitive grants to school districts to create and expand high-quality pathways into teaching and increase the number of effective teachers in high-need schools and subject shortage areas. CAP has long proposed a greater federal investment in high-quality alternative certification programs targeted to high-needs schools.

The teacher and leader pathways program would also offer competitive grants to states and school districts to “recruit, prepare and retain effective principals and school leadership teams with the skills to turn around low-performing schools.” The focus on preparing leadership teams to turnaround low-performing schools is critical. One of the greatest challenges to districts’ capacity to turnaround schools is the challenge of finding the school leaders with the skills to do the work. Federal support for recruiting and preparing educators specifically to meet this need is a wise and much-needed investment.

Reform elementary and secondary school funding

The administration’s budget proposal does a great deal to help states with many of their most pressing educational needs. The budget invests nearly a billion dollars into helping states and districts reinvent their lowest-performing schools.

The president’s budget also requests $14.492 billion for Title I, Part A—the major vehicle by which the Department of Education distributes funds to states and districts serving concentrations of low-income children. This request is identical to the fiscal year 2010 appropriation, which makes sense in light of the $10 billion in supplemental appropriations that the program received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But the formulas driving Title I, Part A funds should be made simpler and fairer. The president’s budget request makes no allowance for the additional funding that would facilitate a change in the formulas, but Congress may well embrace this idea.

The administration has taken important steps in this budget to improve the current system of federal education funding. It provides significantly more funding for schools, but it also makes tough choices and both consolidates and reforms unnecessary or inefficient programs. We know from our research that wasteful and hidebound school funding systems often impede high-quality schools, and the administration has consolidated dozens of K-12 programs into 11 new programs in order improve results and effectiveness.

Prioritizing more learning time

The Obama administration proposes to reform the $1.16 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which currently restricts the use of funds to activities that take place during nonschool hours, including afterschool time. The reformed program would instead “focus funding on models that redesign and extend the school day, week, or year to provide additional time for students to engage in academic activities, additional time for enrichment activities, and time for educators to collaborate and improve instruction.”

The president’s proposed investment in expanded learning time is a wise investment. More school time, alone, is insufficient. But more time used well—in combination with a comprehensive reform strategy that includes improved access to effective teachers and school leaders, a robust accountability system, and an engaging curriculum aligned to standards and assessments—is a necessary component of our nation’s strategy to turn around the most troubled high-poverty schools. Expanded learning time initiatives have demonstrated great promise in improving academic outcomes among students who are most likely to fall behind, such as English language learners.

Community partnerships are a priority in expanded learning time schools, as they have been in many CCLC-funded programs. Many schools with an expanded school calendar have partnered with community-based organizations, arts and cultural groups, and other such organizations to deliver enrichment opportunities that support students’ academic learning and broaden their opportunities and skills.

In fact, the increased time and redesigned calendar has elevated the role of community providers in many expanded learning time schools by allowing them to become active partners within the school. For example, community partners in ELT schools co-teach classes with regular full-time teachers, serve as a source of professional development to teachers on issues that they have expertise, and often participate in a school’s leadership and management structure.

Engaging communities in our schools

The president also proposes to support community schools under a reformed CCLC program. The Center for American Progress discussed the benefits of school-based services offered by community schools in a recent report. In addition, the proposed $210 million in funding for Promise Neighborhoods will allow for the replication of the highly successful Harlem’s Children’s Zone in communities across the country. The president is right to prioritize funding for school-level reforms that facilitate access to important social and health services for students and families.

Investing in innovation

The budget also looks to the future and invests in educational innovation, providing educators with the flexibility and resources to figure out what works. CAP has highlighted this issue in a number of recent reports, including “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Innovation.” The administration is clearly trying to spend education dollars in ways that maximize results. The president’s budget provides an additional $1.35 billion to further the success of the Race to the Top Fund, which provides competitive grants to help states and now districts with these new funds to create the conditions for reform. The budget also provides another $500 million to expand the Investing in Innovation Fund, which will extend results-based reform models for achieving student success.

The president’s budget goes a long way to improving our nation’s education system. It provides a much-needed investment in our economic future. Now it’s up to Congress to reauthorize ESEA and fund these important priorities.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org