Saying it was designed to “bring middle-class economics into the twenty-first century,” President Obama released a Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget on February 2 that includes a new $125 million competitive grant program that would promote the redesign of America’s high schools, $1 billion increase for Title I, $750 million for preschool development grants, and a new federal-state partnership that would provide two years of free community college to eligible students. Overall, the president’s budget would provide $48.3 billion in discretionary funding (excluding Pell Grants) for the U.S. Department of Education—a $3.6 billion increase over FY15.
“Middle-class economics means making sure more Americans have the chance to earn the skills and education they need to keep earning higher wages down the road,” Obama wrote in his budget message to the U.S. Congress. “The budget calls for new investments and innovation that will expand preschool and invest in high-quality early education for America’s youngest learners, provide more help to disadvantaged students and the schools that serve them, better prepare and support teachers, and transform our high schools so they help all students graduate prepared for college and career.”
Next Generation High Schools—Obama’s new high school program—would integrate student-centered instruction and “deeper learning,” which delivers rich core content to students in innovative ways that allow them to learn and then apply what they have learned. The program would have a particular focus on STEM-themed (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) high schools that expand opportunities for girls and other groups of students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.
“Students of color and low-income students now represent the majority of the nation’s students, but they remain in the minority when it comes to access to the excellent teachers and schools they need to succeed in today’s economy,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “President Obama’s high school redesign program would target these students and ensure that they graduate from high school with the deep content knowledge, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and other skills that prepare them for college and today’s fastest-growing jobs.”
Obama also proposed $556 million—a $50 million increase—for the School Improvement Grants program, which focuses on the nation’s lowest-performing schools, including high schools with “unacceptably low graduation rates.” And on the heels of a December decision by the Federal Communications Commission to increase funding for the federal E-rate program to help U.S. schools and libraries improve internet access, Obama proposed a new $200 million Education Technology State Grants program that would provide educators with the “training and support to maximize the impact of expanded access to technology to provide high-quality instruction to students.”
Among individual programs, the budget includes $160 million—the same amount that the program received in FY15—for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, which promotes literacy from birth through grade twelve. This is the first time the president’s budget request has specifically included funding for this program. Career and Technical Education state grants would receive $1.3 billion, an increase of $200 million over last year while federal TRIO programs would receive a $20 million increase to $860 million. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) would receive $302 million and Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool) would receive $1.15 billion—both amounts are the same as last year. Obama proposes to double funding for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems from $35 million to $70 million.
To pay for these and other spending increases in his budget, Obama is proposing to raise taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans while also closing some tax loopholes—a plan unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled Congress.
“The president is advocating more spending, more taxes, and more debt,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) in a joint statement. “As we have seen over the past several years, that approach will yield less opportunity for the middle class and a crushing burden of debt that threatens both our future prosperity and our national security. A proposal that never balances is not a serious plan for America’s fiscal future. Especially when we have to borrow money just to afford the programs we already have. The president is required by law to submit a budget proposal. It is a suggestion and a wish list, but the budget of Congress sets the outline of spending for the coming year.”
For more information on the president’s proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education, including proposed funding totals for every program under its jurisdiction, visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget16/summary/16summary.pdf.