In a State of the Union address that was heavily focused on the economy and creating jobs, President Obama called for greater investments in education and a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
“In the twenty-first century, the best antipoverty program around is a world-class education,” President Obama said in his January 27 address. “And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential. When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states.”
The president made good on his pledge to boost education funding when he proposed a 7.5 percent increase in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education in his Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 budget that was released on February 1. If enacted, the increase would be the largest since FY 2002—right after NCLB was signed into law.
“At a time when most government spending is being frozen, the president is investing in education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “He sees it as the key to our economic future. [The] budget [is] a clear reflection of the president’s deep commitment to education.”
The budget includes a total of $49.7 billion in discretionary funding for education programs—an increase of $3.5 billion over last year. It includes a $3 billion increase for competitive programs under ESEA, which “signals the president’s commitment to redesign the accountability system created by No Child Left Behind,” Secretary Duncan told reporters on a conference call.
To further encourage Congress to pass a reauthorization of ESEA, President Obama has promised to send a budget amendment for an additional $1 billion that will go toward funding for schools that produce gains in student achievement, funding to improve the quality of assessments, and additional funding for expanded learning time.
During the conference call, Duncan outlined some of the reforms that the administration would seek in an ESEA reauthorization. Specifically, he mentioned accountability reforms that factor in student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps, proficiency towards college- and career-ready standards, and better high school graduation and college enrollment rates. He said they would focus on “raising standards for all students, rewarding success in schools, supporting and rewarding the effective teachers and leaders, turning around low-performing schools, and helping schools develop a well-rounded education.”
Among individual programs, the president requested no increase for Title I ($14.49 billion) but proposed a $354.4 million increase (65 percent) for School Improvement Grants ($900 million). The additional funding would help states and school districts turn around the five thousand lowest-performing schools in the nation over the next five years.
The Striving Readers program, which is focused on improving the literacy skills of students from birth through grade 12, was one of thirty-eight education programs consolidated into a new funding stream. Under Obama’s proposal, Striving Readers, which received $250 million last year, would be grouped under Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education with programs such as Early Reading First, Even Start, Literacy Through School Libraries, and the National Writing Project.
According to the budget summary provided by the department, the new program would provide competitive grants to State Educational Agencies (SEA), or SEAs in partnership with outside entities (such as nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education), in order to support comprehensive state and local efforts aimed at improving literacy instruction, especially in high-need schools. The president would provide $450 million for this new grouping of programs under his FY11 budget.
“By providing a bold outline for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in his FY11 budget and including the resources to go along with it, President Obama put the wheels in motion to provide the nation’s students with a world-class education in high school that prepares them for the rigors of college and career,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.
“I’m especially pleased to see the president’s $900 million plan to turn around the nation’s five thousand lowest-performing schools and hope that the program will provide a significant amount of funding to the nation’s approximately two thousand high schools that graduate less than 60 percent of their students,” Wise continued. “However, I am concerned about his proposal to consolidate seven literacy programs into a new competitive grant program that could potentially ignore the literacy needs of older students in favor of elementary students. Certainly, literacy in the early grades is vital, but the Alliance for Excellent Education looks forward to working with the president and the Congress to see that the reading and comprehension needs of older students will be met under this new proposal.”
More information on proposed funding levels for other education programs is available athttp://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget11/summary/appendix4.pdf.