Center for American Progress

Continued Investment in Elementary and Secondary Education

Continued Investment in Elementary and Secondary Education

President Obama’s New Budget Makes It a Priority

Glenda Partee and Diana Epstein examine the president’s plan to strengthen America by investing in education

The president's budget invests in a highly effective teaching workforce, promotes innovation, and supports programs that serve low-income students. (AP/ Orlin Wagner)
The president's budget invests in a highly effective teaching workforce, promotes innovation, and supports programs that serve low-income students. (AP/ Orlin Wagner)

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 sets a responsible course for rebuilding the economy so that it works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Our middle class is the engine of economic growth, but is threatened by dwindling public investments, a tax system increasingly rigged to benefit the wealthy, a fraying safety net, and assaults on what should be the bedrock guarantees of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The president’s budget protects those guarantees, boosts critical investments, and takes steps toward rebalancing the tax code so that all pay their fair share. And it does this in a fiscally responsible way, charting a path that nurtures the economic recovery while reducing the federal deficit, all without asking the middle class to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.

The president’s fiscal year 2013 budget for elementary and secondary education calls for continued investments in education that promote smart spending and consolidate some programs into more efficient funding streams. It invests in a highly effective teaching workforce, promotes innovation, and supports programs that serve low-income students. Education is the key to future American competitiveness and a strong economy, and the president’s budget calls for continued investment in education in order to grow our economy and rebuild the middle class. So let’s look at the key ingredients in the president’s plan for education spending.

Overall funding levels

President Obama’s budget recognizes that investment in education is a proven means to achieve future economic growth. It calls for a $1.7 billion increase (2.5 percent) in additional education funding over FY 2012 levels. It also creates two new programs that reflect strategic investments—a new fund for training teachers and a Community College to Career Fund.

Most education programs are typically funded through discretionary spending, which subjects them to the political whims of the annual budget cycle. But the creation of these new programs in the president’s budget makes clear that these crucial investments in our future human capital are a priority.


The president’s budget makes major investments in improvements in the educator workforce, including a new $5 billion competitive program (a component of the American Jobs Act) to help schools attract, prepare, support, and reward great teachers by improving the pathways leading into and through the profession. This is a bold effort to refashion and link the pieces of our incoherent and dysfunctional system of training and developing teachers. It calls for states and districts⎯working with teachers, their unions, and teacher-training institutions⎯to undertake a comprehensive set of actions to:

  • Reform colleges of education and make them more selective
  • Create new career ladders for teachers, establishing leadership roles and expanded responsibilities
  • Link earnings to performance
  • Improve professional development
  • Ensure greater accountability through evaluation systems based on multiple measures
  • Reshape tenure to protect good teachers and promote accountability

In addition to the $5 billion program, the budget supports an Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants program (in Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), which updates the earlier No Child Left Behind emphasis on educator qualifications with a focus on educator effectiveness. This program also provides a 25 percent set-aside (about $620 million) to build much-needed evidence on the best ways to recruit, prepare, and support educators.

Additionally, it invests $400 million in a Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund (formerly called the Teacher Incentive Fund) focused on compensation and evaluation of strong educators. It also adds $80 million to the State Grant program to expand preparation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, through programs that permit future teachers to simultaneously earn an undergraduate degree in a STEM field and a teaching certificate.

Together, these teacher initiatives represent a large investment that if spent wisely can truly reform the current system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding good teachers in ways that will reap economic benefits for students and for our country. A recent study by researchers at Harvard University and Columbia University found that effective teachers will not only improve student achievement in school but also students’ college success and lifetime earnings.

These initiatives clarify expectations and challenge key players to join together to make the fundamental changes that have slowed the progress of education reform to date. These proposed efforts will shore up the broken pieces of the teacher-workforce pipeline and bring together policies and programs embedded in diverse grant programs that separately have not produced the reforms needed to professionalize and elevate teaching.

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 president’s budget acknowledges the fact that low-income children need extra resources in order to meet high academic standards and therefore keeps Title I funded at current levels.

Math and science

International tests demonstrate that U.S. students are falling behind their peers worldwide in mathematics and science education. We need to make rapid strides in these areas in order to prepare a workforce that can compete for the jobs of the future. The president’s budget includes funding for a new kindergarten-through-college initiative to improve mathematics education that would be jointly administered by the Department of Education ($30 million) and the National Science Foundation ($30 million). The goal of the new program is to develop and eventually scale up new approaches to mathematics education that are grounded in evidence of success.

Career and technical education

The proposed $1.1 billion for a reauthorized Career and Technical Education Program will bring career- and technical-education spending into alignment with efforts to ensure that students are college and career ready and possess the skills needed for success in a 21st century economy. An additional $1 billion over three years will also support the expansion of career academies that combine academic and technical curricula around a career theme and incorporate school-employer partnerships with work-based learning.

The academy model is documented to improve the labor market prospects of young people and strengthen their engagement in school and postsecondary learning. This is an important investment in ensuring that our young people have a leg up on emerging and in-demand careers, and that our high schools, working with local businesses and community colleges, are structured to support our nation’s economic growth.

Competitive programs to foster reform and innovation

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided initial funding for two of the Department of Education’s most successful initiatives⎯Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation Fund, known for short as the i3 Fund⎯and funding for these programs has continued in subsequent years. The Race to the Top competition stimulated an unprecedented number of much needed state reforms, with more than half the states changing laws or policies in 2009 and 2010 as a result of this program.

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. Almost all 50 states have prepared Race to the Top applications, and thousands of organizations have applied to i3. But many worthy applicants did not receive funding in the previous years of competitions.

In fiscal year 2012, Congress appropriated $550 million for Race to the Top, and the president’s new budget seeks to build on the success of these programs by funding another round of Race to the Top ($850 million) and i3 ($150 million). Importantly, the new round of Race to the Top would include a second year of focus on building high-quality early-childhood programs (Early Learning Challenge) and a district competition for those districts that are eager to move forward with reforms even if their states are not.

Promise Neighborhoods

The president’s budget proposal reflects the administration’s continued support for its Promise Neighborhoods initiative, which comprehensively tackles education and the root causes of poverty through a coordinated effort to improve entire communities. The first Promise Neighborhood grants, awarded in 2010, enabled 21 communities across the country to partner with local schools and organizations to develop plans for measurably improving student outcomes. Four of those initial grantees won grants in 2011 to actually implement their plans, but it will be difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the Promise Neighborhoods strategy without having a larger pool of communities in the implementation phase.

The $100 million budget proposal for Promise Neighborhoods ensures that additional communities will receive an opportunity to become a Promise Neighborhood, while also establishing a broader base of data for future research on comprehensive community strategies.

Program consolidation

President Obama’s budget proposes consolidating some education programs into new funding streams. While some of these programs should be eliminated because they are outdated or ineffective, other programs serve valuable purposes and should be consolidated or reformed. Rather than simply cutting education funding, as House Republicans have recommended in the past, these funds should be redirected and targeted at efforts that reflect current priorities and have demonstrated results.

The strength of the American economy depends on a well-educated workforce, yet the United States suffers from persistent differences in achievement between groups of students defined by race/ethnicity or family income. Further, our students rank well behind their peers in economically competitive countries on international tests. We must continue to invest in education in order to create a system that is more equitable and that produces American students who are more competitive in the global marketplace. The president’s FY 2013 budget lays out critical investments that will support improvements in student achievement and put our economy on the path to sustained and robust growth.

Glenda Partee is Associate Director for Teacher Quality in the Education team at the Center for American Progress. Diana Epstein is a Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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Glenda L. Partee

Associate Director, Teacher Quality