Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Related Agencies on April 17, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan heard support for the president’s preschool proposal from committee members of both parties, but he also faced pointed questions regarding President Obama’s decision to target new spending on competitive programs rather than formula programs, such as Title I and special education.
Calling the president’s budget a “good starting point,” Senate Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Approprations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he was pleased by the president’s prosposal to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, extend the school day and school year, and make college more affordable, but he was concerned by the lack of new funding for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),which funds special education.
“I would have liked to see a higher priority on Title I and IDEA Part B state grants,” Harkin said. “These are the two cornerstones of federal support for public education, but basically flat-funded in the president’s budget. And I would have hoped that in the $3.2 billion increase that the president asked for that we would have had some more money directed to Title I and IDEA. But overall, I believe the budget shows that the president understands the importance of education to our nation’s future.”
Following Harkin, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), top Republican on the subcommittee, also discussed Obama’s proposed $75 billion preschool program, saying that he “certainly [does not] dispute that access to those learning experiences is critical for young children,” but he noted that only a few states have benefitted from the adminstration’s Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge Program. Moran added that he was concerned that the president’s budget “signals a weakening of the federal commitment to formula grant programs that are the primary source of federal education.”
“Instead of increasing funding for the key K–12 programs above the fiscal year ‘12 levels or even continuing support for past Race to the Top competitions, the administration shows to fund a new unauthorized $1 billion program called Race to the Top–College Affordability,” Moran said. “This new competition would be the fourth component of Race to the Top, which to date has yet to demonstrate proven results that can be replicated and sustainable once funding is exhausted.”
In response to questions about competitive versus formula, Duncan referred to increases for School Improvement Grants and Promise Neighborhoods, noting that both of these programs serve students who receive funds from Title I and IDEA. He urged committee members to “look not just at one funding line but to look across funding lines,” adding, “if you look at one line item, I think you sort of missed the comprehensive nature of what we’re trying to do.”
Video of the hearing is available at http://1.usa.gov/11BUzF9.
Duncan’s complete testimony is available at http://1.usa.gov/ZeZoHw.