By Alyson Klein: Education Week.
Education takes a marquee spot in President Barack Obama’s last, otherwise austere, election-year budget request, with his spending plan calling for new investments in community colleges, money to prevent teacher layoffs, investment in school facilities, and funds to spur state action on teacher quality.But the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal—which also emphasizes the administration’s signature competitive-grant programs while flat-funding key formula grants, such as Title I aid to districts—faces an almost-certain dead end in Congress, where Republicans are seeking to squelch the federal role in K-12 policy and rein in spending.The president unveiled his $3.8 trillion budget in a speech at Northern Virginia Community College, in Annandale, which emphasized the importance of education and training to the nation’s economic recovery—a central theme of his administration’s message going into the election campaign.The president is requesting $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 2.5 percent, over the current budget year.“The skills and training that employers are looking for begins with the men and women who educate our children. All of us can point to a teacher who’s made a difference in our lives—and I know I can,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on the Northern Virginia campus. “So I want this Congress to give our schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best teachers.”Among his budget proposal’s highlights:• $30 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, including $5 billion dedicated to a competition aimed at bolstering teacher-quality initiatives.• A $300 million increase to the president’s signature Race to the Top competition.• $8 billion in new money for a Community College Career Fund, which would be jointly administered by the Education Department and the U.S. Department of Labor. The administration is also seeking to retool the $1.1 billion Career and Technical Education program to better align the program with current career demands.
Polarized ResponseRepublican leaders in Congress were swift to criticize the budget plan.“The administration continues to tighten the federal government’s grip on the nation’s education system, prescribing more intrusion in K-12 classrooms … more unsustainable costs for taxpayers, and more uncertainty for students of all ages,” Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement.In particular, Rep. Kline added, “I am troubled by the president’s plan to expand the Race to the Top program significantly, forcing taxpayers to fund an even larger slush fund operated at the sole discretion of the Secretary of Education.”But the National Education Association, a 3.2 million-member union—and a powerhouse when it comes to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts—found much to like in the administration’s budget blueprint, which would include a new $5 billion program aimed at improving teacher quality.The fact that the Education Department was targeted for the “single largest domestic investment reflects the president’s commitment to education as a way out of the economic crisis,” said Mary Kusler, the union’s director of government relations.
Preventing LayoffsThe teacher and school construction money would be part of the previously proposed American Jobs Act, which Congress has refused to approve.But this time, the White House is putting a new twist on its teacher request: the $5 billion proposal for a new, competitive grant program that would help states take what the administration is billing as big, “bold” steps to overhaul teacher quality. For example, states could use the funds to revamp colleges of education and make them more selective, make sure teachers’ salaries are tied to student achievement, improve professional development and offer teachers more planning time, and craft new evaluation systems.Mr. Obama also wants to direct a big portion of the nearly $2.5 billion in funding that states now use for class-size reduction and professional development to a competitive grant program. The proposal would siphon off a quarter of the funding—$about 620 million—for competitive grants that focus on a host of teacher-quality issues, including expanding the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers, and bolstering teacher preparation.Right now, just 1.5 percent of the total funding for state teacher-quality grants is competitive, while the rest is distributed to states by formula. Applicants for the grants include Teach for America, a New York City-based non-profit organization that trains recent college graduates to work in under-resourced schools, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an advanced certification program based in Washington.“We’re so pleased to see the president’s leadership in fostering innovation and accountability in recruiting and developing teachers and leaders,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of TFA, in a statement, saying it would “do a great deal to build local capacity in fostering the teaching and principal forces necessary to ensure educational excellence and equity.”Ms. Kusler said the NEA would take a hard look at the details of the set-aside. She says union agrees with the administration that teacher preparation is an area ripe for attention. There needs to be “a broader conversation about ensuring that educators are prepared when they set foot in their classroom,”