Obama 2016 Budget Boosts Funding for Early Ed, Community College
"[The budget] helps working families' paychecks go farther by treating things like paid sick leave and childcare as the economic priorities that they are," Obama said Monday in announcing the budget proposal. "It gives Americans of every age the chance to upgrade their skill so they can earn higher wages, and it includes my plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students."
[REWIND: Obama's 2015 Budget: More Early Education Funds, New Race to the Top]
Aside from a few tweaks, the highlights of the education-related items in Obama's budget had been announced in the weeks leading up to his State of the Union addressed. In his budget proposal, the president formally made requests for education-related tax reforms, an expansion of the federal Pay As You Earn student loan repayment program, as well as the first installment of a 10-year, $60 billion plan to make community college tuition-free for some students. Obama did, however, add a requirement that would target the program to lower-income students, barring students with a family income of more than $200,000 from participating. He also repeated his request for a 10-year, $75 billion universal preschool program, and $750 million for preschool development grants.
And as promised by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the administration's budget proposal requests an additional $1 billion in Title I funding for schools and additional funds to help states audit and reduce unnecessary tests and improve the quality of those they keep. Funding for grants to improve the quality, validity and reliability of tests would nearly triple from about $9 million to $25 million.
The budget also includes significant requests for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants ($2.3 billion) and the Teaching for Tomorrow program for teacher recruitment efforts ($1 billion in 2015 and $5 billion over 5 years).
[READ: Most Students Don't Know Obama's College Ratings Proposal Exists]
"Great teachers and leaders matter more today than ever," Duncan said in a call with reporters Monday. "Let's do everything we can to respect, reward and retain them to help all students reach their full academic and social potential."
The administration also wants to boost funding for the School Improvement Grant program (a $50 million increase), which has had at best mixed results in turning around failing schools. Federal data on the program shows about one-third of the schools have posted declines in average proficiency since receiving the grants.
Obama will also ask for an increase of $30.7 million – for a total of $131 million – for the Office for Civil Rights, which handles civil rights complaints at schools and colleges, including instances of sexual assault, discrimination and inequitable access to resources. More than 90 colleges and universities are currently under federal investigation for possible Title IX violations related to how they handle sexual violence cases. The additional funding would allow the office to hire 200 more full-time employees.
Overall, the budget asks for significant increases to existing programs, rather than more funding for new initiatives and competitive grant programs, such as Race to the Top, which was notably absent, but Republicans still seemed unwilling to support the budget.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House education committee, said in a statement the budget prioritizes "more spending, more taxes and more government."
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"We must help more students pursue the dream of a college degree without living a nightmare of debt and unemployment," Kline said. "We must advance K-12 education reform that empowers parents and places more control in the hands of teachers and local decision-makers."
Lindsey Burke, a fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, also said the budget increases federal involvement in public education,
"The administration’s budget is a blueprint for the spending the White House hopes to garner in its goal of creating a 'cradle-to-career' education system, starting with free preschool and continuing through free community college," Burke said. "But education is a quintessentially local issue. The more that is spent from Washington, the less control local leaders – and most importantly – parents have in directing their children’s learning."
Traditionally left-leaning teachers unions, however, praised Obama for his budget proposal.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the budget aims to "level the playing field for working families."
[MORE: Senators Detail Plans for No Child Left Behind Debate]
Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the 3 million-member National Education Association, called the budget "smart and pragmatic" and a move away from an "austerity-at-all-costs style of governing."
"He knows what educators know: An investment in education is a direct investment in our students and our nation’s future," Eskelsen-Garcia said in a statement. "That’s why educators have for years called for funding increases to support programs that improve opportunities for all students. We are pleased the Obama administration is leaning in and investing much-needed resourced to help high-needs students in his latest budget."