Released on March 4, President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request includes a new $200 million competitive grant program to support educators’ use of technology and data and a new $300 million Race to the Top program focused on improving the academic performances of students in the highest-poverty schools. Similar to last year, Obama also proposed a new grant competitive program for high school redesign and a ten-year, $75 billion plan to provide access to high-quality preschool programs.
Overall, Obama’s FY 2015 budget would provide $45.81 billion in discretionary funding—excluding Pell Grants—for the U.S. Department of Education (ED), an increase of 2.9 percent over FY 2014. Among key education programs, Title I would receive $14.4 billion—the same as last year—and special education state grants would receive $11.6 billion—an increase of $100 million.
“The budget is not just about numbers, it’s about our values and it’s about our future, and how well we are laying the groundwork for those young children that I was with just a few moments ago to be able to succeed here in America,” Obama said during remarks on his FY 2015 budget at Powell Elementary School in Washington, DC. “These kids may not be the most excited people in town on budget day, but my budget is designed with their generation and future generations in mind.”
To complement his “ConnectED” initiative, which aims to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed internet access within the next five years, Obama proposed a new $200 million “ConnectEDucators” initiative to ensure that teachers and leaders with access to high-speed internet and technology devices for students are well prepared to use these resources to personalize student learning and better align classroom instruction with college and career readiness. According to the budget summary provided by ED, funds from the program could be used to support educators in creating and using high-quality open digital learning resources and content aligned with college- and career-ready standards; using mobile devices and digital tools to personalize learning and implement new assessments; analyzing real-time data to understand and improve student outcomes; using technology to personalize student learning and increase student engagement; and providing access to experts and effective teachers through online/blended learning environments in hard-to-staff schools and subjects.
“Technology can help teachers [provide effective instruction and personalize student learning], but technology alone will never improve student learning,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a conference call with reporters discussing the president’s budget. “Teachers and school leaders must know how to make the best use of technology.”
Another new program in Obama’s budget is a $300 million Race to the Top–Equity and Opportunity competition, which would “drive comprehensive change in how states and school districts identify and close longstanding educational opportunity and achievement gaps.” The program would require two types of activities. The first would involve developing data systems to identify school districts, schools, and student groups with the greatest disparities in opportunity and outcomes, creating strategies for addressing these gaps, and evaluating their success. In the second activity, grantees would use funds to develop, attract, and retain more effective teachers and leaders in high-need schools and address others factors contributing to educational opportunity and achievement gaps, such as school safety, expanded learning time, fair and appropriate school discipline policies, and other strategies that mitigate the effects of concentrations of poverty.
Duncan told reporters that the program would complement existing efforts, such as Title I and statewide data systems, by further supporting strong state and local efforts to improve equity. “Having some resources to really work with states and districts that are serious about making sure that disadvantaged children and communities have access to the best teachers, have access to the most rigorous courses, we feel really, really good about playing in this space,” Duncan said.
As he did last year, Obama proposed creating a competitive grant program that would “promote the whole school transformation of the high school experience in order to provide students with challenging and relevant academic and career-related learning experiences” that prepare them for college and a career. Examples of activities that grantees could offer include opportunities to earn postsecondary credit while in high school; career-related experiences; project-based learning; and making more strategic use of learning time through the effective application of technology, redesigning school calendars, and/or competency-based progression. Last year, Obama requested $300 million for the program; this year he requested $150 million.
Obama requested $505.8 million for School Turnaround Grants, which target the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The amount requested is the same as FY 2014, but it is expected that the FY 2015 money could support new grants for an estimated 170 schools.
Obama’s budget would combine the $25.7 million Ready-to-Learn Television program and the $158 million Striving Readers program into a new $183.7 million Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy program that would provide competitive grants to states—either alone or in partnerships with other entities—for comprehensive state and local efforts to improve literacy instruction for students from preschool through grade 12, especially in high-need schools.
Obama also proposed a new $170 million Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Innovation Networks program that would provide competitive grants to school districts in partnership with institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to increase the number of P–12 students who are prepared for postsecondary education and careers in STEM fields.
Obama requested a small increase—from $142 million to $165 million—for the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), which helps to “improve educational outcomes for students by developing, validating, and scaling up effective practices.” Part of the request would support the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Education (ARPA-ED), a new entity modeled after similar agencies in the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy that would “pursue breakthrough developments in educational technology and tools.”
Funding for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems would double under Obama’s proposal from $34.5 million to $70 million, with the increase supporting $57 million in new grants emphasizing early childhood data linkages, teachers and leader effectiveness, and academic achievement, among other uses.
Obama’s budget would increase the maximum Pell Grant award to an expected $5,830 and make changes to Pell Grant eligibility by strengthening academic progress requirements in an effort to encourage students to complete their studies on time. It would provide Pell Grant eligibility to students who are coenrolled in adult and postsecondary education as part of a career pathway program for adults without a high school diploma. It also proposes a College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus program that would reward colleges that successfully enroll and graduate a significant number of low- and moderate-income students on time.
Among other programs, Twenty-First-Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool) ($1.1 billion), career and technical education ($1.1 billion), Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) ($302 million), and TRIO ($838 million), would receive the same amount of funding as they did in FY 2014.
Republicans were unified in their criticisms of Obama’s budget saying that it would increase spending and raise taxes. “After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” said House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “American families looking for jobs and opportunity will find only more government in this plan. Spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much, it would hurt our economy and cost jobs. And it offers no solutions to save the safety net and retirement security programs that are critical to millions of Americans but are also driving our fiscal imbalance.”
More information on President Obama’s FY 2015 budget request for ED, including funding levels for individual education programs, is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/