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COMPETITIVE VERSUS FORMULA: Secretary Duncan Defends Obama FY 2013 Budget Request on Capitol Hill

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“I was very disappointed when I saw that, with the nearly $2 billion in new money allocated for education resources in the president’s budget this year, you didn’t put the funds into IDEA … Title I … Impact Aid … rural education … or TRIO,” said House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT). “I notice a pattern here. Many other aspects of your budget request also echo the theme of less money for tried-and-true formula grant programs to states and more money in flexible pots for brand new ideas left entirely to your discretion—and yours alone, without congressional input—to distribute.”

Testifying before the House Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee on March 22, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget “reflects his strong commitment to achieving long-term deficit reduction,” but recognizes that cutting back on investments in education could risk America’s continued economic prosperity. As in the past, Duncan heard criticism from members of both parties for the president’s decision to increase funding for competitive programs, such as Race to the Top, while formula programs, such as Title I, are kept at the previous year’s level.

“I was very disappointed when I saw that, with the nearly $2 billion in new money allocated for education resources in the president’s budget this year, you didn’t put the funds into IDEA … Title I … Impact Aid … rural education … or TRIO,” said House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-MT). “I notice a pattern here. Many other aspects of your budget request also echo the theme of less money for tried-and-true formula grant programs to states and more money in flexible pots for brand new ideas left entirely to your discretion—and yours alone, without congressional input—to distribute.”

Similarly, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), top Democrat on the subcommittee, also said she was “concerned” with the emphasis on competitive grants and noted that the president’s budget would increase competitive grants by $2.8 billion while formula funds would fall by $1.2 billion. At the same time, however, she was “excited” about the Early Learning Challenge Grants designed to improve childcare quality and prepare children for success in school.

During his testimony, Duncan said competitive programs such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) in FY 2012 were “creating incentives and promoting new thinking” at the state and local levels about transforming teacher and learning. He said these incentives were one of four priorities in the president’s budget, along with improving affordability and quality in postsecondary education; elevating the teaching profession; and strengthening the connections between school and work and better aligning job training programs with workforce demands.

Duncan also addressed the looming cuts to military and domestic spending that were triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the “supercommittee,” failed to agree on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit. These automatic across-the-board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years, formally called “sequestration,” will go into effect in January 2013. (For background on these automatic cuts, visit here.

According to Duncan, the impact of these cuts would be “both significant and very negative [and], in a word … devastating.” He said the cuts, which would result in a 7.8 percent drop in domestic discretionary spending, would make it “impossible” to achieve the U.S. Department of Education’s fundamental mission to prepare students for college and a career. Specifically, Duncan noted that Title I would be cut by $1.2 billion, denying funding to nearly 4,000 schools serving more than 1.6 million disadvantaged students and could result in more than 16,000 teachers and aides losing their jobs.

“At a time when we are just starting to see strong signs of renewed economic growth, as well as the positive impact of historic education reforms that will contribute to future growth and prosperity, it just makes no sense at all to undermine this progress through a sequester of federal discretionary spending,” Duncan said. (Duncan’s complete testimony is available at http://appropriations.house.gov/CalendarArchive/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=281196).

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