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STRONGER TOGETHER: President Obama’s Final Budget Proposes New $120 Million Program to Better Integrate Schools by Income, $80 Million for High School Redesign

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“Ensuring that more African American, Latino, and other students of color, as well as students from low-income families, earn their high school diploma is a critical first step to putting those individuals on a path to success. And because students of color and students from low-income families now represent the majority of the nation’s students, it is also a critical element of a growing national economy.”

Released on February 9, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal—his last as president—carves out funding to turn around low-performing schools, includes $80 million for a competitive grant program to redesign America’s high schools, and requests $120 million for a new program to promote greater socioeconomic integration within schools.

“The president’s budget reflects the administration’s broader efforts to expand opportunity and ensure every child can achieve his or her full potential,” said Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. “We have made tremendous progress with record high school graduation rates and more students of color going to college, but we have further to go to ensure that educational excellence is a reality for all students. This budget builds on the administration’s continued efforts to invest in education, from high-quality early learning through college.”

Overall, the president’s budget would increase discretionary funding (excluding Pell grants) for the U.S. Department of Education by $1.1 billion. Special education state grants would receive $11.9 billion, the same amount as the previous year. Title I would receive approximately $16 billion, which is an increase of $450 million over the previous year. Of the $450 million increase, Obama would target $174 million for turning around low-performing schools. (Some are questioning whether the $450 million is a true increase due to requirements within the Every Student Succeeds Act and the elimination of the School Improvement Grants program. For more on the subject, read the budget analysis from Education Week’s Politics K–12 blog).

The president’s new $120 million “Stronger Together” competitive grant program would support “voluntary, community-supported efforts to develop and implement strategies to address the effects of concentrated poverty by increasing socioeconomic diversity in pre-K–12 schools.” In a February 9 blog post for Medium, King writes that such an approach has helped students from low-income families perform better academically. “In Montgomery County, Maryland, children in public housing who attended the district’s most advantaged elementary schools performed better over time than those attending higher-poverty schools, despite additional per-student funding provided at higher-poverty schools,” King writes.

The president is requesting $80 million for a new “Next Generation High Schools” program that would “support innovative models that personalize teaching and promote active learning for students, and that enable secondary schools to adopt new approaches for engaging, preparing, and inspiring college- and career-ready students.” It would focus on school models that engage and expand opportunities for girls and other groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. President Obama proposed $125 million for Next Generation High Schools in the previous year, but the program was not funded by Congress.

In a statement, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise praised the focus on educational opportunity and equity within the president’s budget proposal. “The national high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, but more than 4,000 students still drop out every school day. Additionally, students of color and students from low-income families continue to graduate from high school at rates much lower than white students,” Wise said. “Ensuring that more African American, Latino, and other students of color, as well as students from low-income families, earn their high school diploma is a critical first step to putting those individuals on a path to success. And because students of color and students from low-income families now represent the majority of the nation’s students, it is also a critical element of a growing national economy.”

Proposed funding levels for additional programs under the U.S. Department of Education’s jurisdiction are available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget17/17pbapt.pdf.

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