On January 31, President Bush delivered a State of the Union address that promised to keep the economy growing with a permanent extension of the tax cuts while attempting to control the budget deficit through cuts in nonsecurity discretionary spending and curbs in the growth of mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. He also announced the American Competitiveness Initiative, which would encourage American innovation and strengthen the country’s ability to compete in a global economy.
“To keep America competitive one commitment is necessary above all,” he said. “We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people and we’re going to keep that edge. Tonight I announce an American Competitiveness Initiative, to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation’s children a firm grounding in math and science.”
With his budget release on February 6, President Bush put forward more details on the American Competitiveness Initiative and outlined a spending plan that cuts education spending by $2.1 billion, or 3.8 percent, from last year.1
“This budget request soundly targets resources where they are needed most and working best,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. “It will enable us to continue to deliver results for all children under No Child Left Behind, and it tackles our vital priority to improve our global competitiveness by targeting achievement in math and science.”
In a move that is sure to draw many voucher opponents’ attention, the president’s budget includes $100 million for America’s Opportunity Scholarships for Kids. The scholarships would allow low-income students who attend schools identified as in need of restructuring to attend a private school or receive intensive, sustained tutoring assistance. A portion of the request ($15 million) would fund the scholarship program that has operated in Washington, D.C., since 2005.
American Competitiveness Initiative to Focus on Math and Science
In his budget request, the president proposed a variety of programs under the American Competitiveness Initiative that would strengthen schools’ capacity to improve instruction in mathematics and science. The Math Now for Elementary School Students initiative, which is modeled after Reading First, would receive $125 million to implement proven practices in math instruction that focus on preparing K 7 students for more rigorous math courses in middle and high school. To help middle school students who struggle in math, the president proposed a $125 million Math Now for Middle School Students initiative, which is based on the principles of the Striving Readers program. In addition, the president proposed $10 million for a National Mathematics Panel, which would guide the Math Now programs, and $5 million for an evaluation of mathematics and science programs.
To grow the pool of qualified math and science teachers, the president proposed $25 million to get 30,000 current or retired engineers, chemists, physicists, and other qualified professionals to teach high school math and science courses. He also called for $122.2 million-a $90 million increase-for the Advanced Placement (AP) program to train 70,000 additional teachers for math, science, and foreign-language AP courses and increase the number of students taking and passing AP tests in these subjects.
President Bush Renews Calls for More Accountability at the High School Level
In order to “more thoroughly extend the NCLB principles to the high school level,” as the U.S. Department of Education’s budget summary reads, the president’s budget includes a $1.475 billion high school reform proposal that would hold high schools accountable for student performance by requiring states to develop and implement reading and math assessments at two additional grades in high school.
The high school proposal would also provide funding for targeted interventions to improve the academic performance of the most at-risk high school students. Examples of specific interventions listed by the U.S. Department of Education include programs that combine rigorous academic courses with vocational and technical training, research-based dropout prevention programs, and programs that identify at-risk middle school students for assistance that will prepare them to succeed in high school and enter postsecondary education. (Critics of the president’s proposal might recognize that these specific interventions are very similar to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Program, the School Dropout Prevention Program, and the GEARUP program-all of which did not receive funding in the president’s budget.)
Academic Competitiveness and National SMART grants, funded at $850 million, make up another part of the president’s high school reform initiative. These grants, which were enacted as part of the budget reconciliation bill that the House of Representatives passed on February 1 and that the president is expected to sign, provide grants of up to $4,000 to low-income, high-achieving postsecondary students who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum or are majoring in mathematics, science, technology, engineering, or critical foreign languages. The budget also includes $8 million to expand the capacity of the State Scholars program, which encourages high school students to complete a rigorous 4-year course of study.
The Striving Readers program, which the president would fund at $100 million, is the final piece of the high school reform initiative. In her introductory remarks at a department briefing on the budget, Secretary Spellings said that students cannot complete high school work and ultimately graduate and go on to college if they cannot read. “That’s why Striving Readers was a priority for the president,” she said. Unfortunately, Striving Readers is not as high of a priority in this year’s budget as it was in last year’s, when the president requested $200 million for it.
Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Would Enforce Spending Restraint
In his State of the Union address, President Bush also promised a budget that would again cut spending. “Every year of my presidency, we’ve reduced the growth of nonsecurity discretionary spending, and last year [Congress] passed bills that cut this spending,” he said. “This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.”
An analysis by the Washington Post noted that the president’s planned tax cuts would more than offset any savings that could be achieved by enacting the president’s proposed cuts to discretionary spending, Medicare, and Medicaid, among others. “All totaled,” it read, “[President Bush’s] proposals for entitlement programs-including cuts, tax hikes and Social Security partial privatization-would actually increase spending by $551 billion.”
For education programs, the president’s budget eliminates funding for 42 programs at a cost of approximately $3.5 billion. Among the targeted programs are the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program ($34.7 million), Smaller Learning Communities ($93.5 million), and Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants ($59.9 million). A chart that outlines the president’s request for selected education programs designed to help middle and high school students is included with this issue of Straight A’s.
However, aside from the American Competitiveness Initiative, many of the president’s education proposals-especially his plan to fund the high school initiative by cutting vocational education, GEAR UP, and the like-were similar to last year’s budget, which was largely considered “dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill.
“Given the importance that the president placed on keeping America competitive and raising the math and science performance of our students, I’m frustrated to see education proposals that the Senate rejected 99 0 last year when it reauthorized the Perkins Act,” noted Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “The administration’s budget is to education what the Super Bowl is to football, and the president gave his team the same playbook that lost last year.”
Whether a new year will bring new results remains to be seen. In the coming weeks, Congress will hold hearings on the president’s budget request and evaluate whether his spending priorities are in line with their own. With elections looming near the end of the year, members of Congress may be reluctant to enforce the spending discipline that the president’s budget requests.