This year’s budget process illustrates two sharply divergent visions for K-12 education in this country. The Republicans’ continuing resolution, or CR, calls for cuts in many areas of education, from Title I to special education and statewide data systems. In contrast, the president’s budget promotes innovation and supports programs that serve low-income students. His budget calls for increased investment in education in order to lay the necessary foundation for future economic growth.
Let’s look at how the two proposals represent fundamental philosophical differences about the federal role in supporting states’ and districts’ efforts to educate our children.
Overall funding levels: The CR calls for a cut to education of almost $5 billion as part of an attempt to extract over $60 billion in cuts from discretionary domestic spending in the middle of FY 2011. The president’s budget recognizes that investment in education is a proven means to achieve future economic growth. Consequently, it calls for a $2 billion increase in additional education funding over FY 2010 levels. The CR is like cutting off the nose to spite the face, whereas the president’s budget is more of an intelligent makeover.
Title I: Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides supplemental funding to schools and districts that serve large concentrations of low-income children. The CR calls for a $693 million decrease in Title I, which would pull anticipated funding from schools serving those children who are most in need of extra resources. The president’s budget acknowledges the fact that low-income children need supplemental resources in order to meet high academic standards. It would therefore keep Title I funding at similar levels and also include an extra $300 million to provide financial and other rewards to staff and students in high-poverty districts and schools that are making the most progress.
Special education: The federal government provides states with money to ensure services to children with disabilities, including early intervention, special education, and related services. The CR would cut special education funding by $556 million, whereas the president’s budget follows the principle that all children deserve a high-quality education. It increases special education funding by $200 million.
Statewide data systems: Developing comprehensive statewide data systems allows districts and schools to track student achievement over time, link student and teacher data, and gather information on school- and district-level performance. The CR would eliminate all federal funding for statewide data systems. In contrast, the president’s budget recognizes that strong data systems are critically important in order to identify strategies that are more (and less) effective in raising student achievement and in supporting vital work such as implementing meaningful performance evaluation systems or holding teacher training programs accountable for the efficacy of their graduates. His budget would increase statewide data systems by $40 million so that states can develop the data infrastructure needed for the future.
21st century community learning centers: This program gives funding to community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during nonschool hours, particularly for children who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The CR would cut its funding by $100 million—the president’s budget provides a $100 million increase. Importantly, the president’s budget would provide flexibility for grantees to use the funding for expanded learning time, which lengthens the school day, week, or year for all students. Grantees could formally incorporate the additional time to provide more time for academics, enrichment, and teacher collaboration, or for community school models that coordinate access to comprehensive services.
Competitive programs designed to foster reform and innovation: The stimulus bill provided funding for two of the Department of Education’s most successful initiatives: Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation or i3 Fund. The Race to the Top competition stimulated an unprecedented number of much-needed state reforms—28 states changed laws or policies in 2009 and 2010 as a result of this program—while the i3 program provided grants to expand the development and implementation of innovative practices to improve our education system. The i3 Fund also stimulated partnerships between public and nonprofit entities and the private and philanthropic sectors. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia prepared Race to the Top applications, and 1,700 groups applied to i3. But many worthy applicants did not receive funding.
The CR provides no money for new rounds of these competitions. The president’s budget seeks to build on the success of these programs by funding another round of Race to the Top and i3.
These examples illustrate that lawmakers face a choice about how we will fund K-12 education now and in the future. The Republicans’ CR advocates reduced funding for education, with many of the cuts falling disproportionately on the low-income children who are most in need of extra help. The president’s budget invests more in education so that all children have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.
Let’s hope lawmakers make the right choice for our country’s future prosperity.
Diana Epstein is an Education Policy Analyst at American Progress.
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