Policy & Funding

Obama Budget Priorities Focus on Teacher Support, STEM, Free College

The White House has released President Barack Obama's 2016 budget proposal, a 150-page document that lays out his administration's priorities for the federal budget in the coming year. Even at $70.7 billion, education is dwarfed by the outlays for Social Security, Medicare and national defense. The amount for education reflects an increase of $3.6 billion over the 2015 enacted level, which makes it equivalent to the total the White House proposed last year, which ran $70.6 billion. The extra funds are intended to support the administration's favorite education projects — STEM, evidence-based innovations, teacher support, free community college and more early childhood education. While those may not be news, the administration's intent to redirect moneys raised through an increase in tobacco taxes is new.

More Education for Young Children
In particular, the recipients of new tobacco taxes will be, in part, Obama's "Preschool for All" program and Head Start. The preschool proposal is intended to get more four-year-olds into high quality preschool programs. The new budget would increase the amount available for preschool development grants to $750 million from $250 million. Public-private programs intended to identify learning and developmental delays in young children would be increased by $115 million to $907 million.

Head Start, an early childhood education program managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, would receive an additional $1.5 billion over 2015. The extra funding is intended to lengthen the school day and maintain the program through the entire school year, which, the White House said, would promote "better outcomes for young children."

K-12 STEM and Data-driven Innovations
The President is promoting a number of initiatives in K-12, including funding for STEM programs intended to draw students from non-traditional groups into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The budget proposes a new $125 million competitive program that would enable high schools to redesign themselves to move to student-centered instruction with an emphasis on becoming specially themed schools that can woo girls and other under-represented groups into STEM fields.

Teacher support will get $3 billion in the new budget, which includes a proposed $200 million state grant program to fund educator training and support for learning how to "maximize" the use of technology in the classroom.

Another area of focus in K-12 will be putting money behind those initiatives showing evidence-based success in education reform. This takes several forms.

The proposed budget seeks a billion dollar increase for Title 1 funding to help low-income schools. Those districts that are using their "formula funds" for "evidence-based" interventions have the opportunity to go after additional money from a special $100 million support fund and may be able to participate in a new pilot program that excuses them from federal reporting requirements.

Charter schools that can show they've improved the educational outcomes for disadvantaged students may be able to expand or replicate their models with an additional $122 million that is part of the overall proposed $375 million charter school allocation.

Rewarding evidence-based performance improvements is also at the heart of the "Investing in Innovation" program, in line to receive $300 million this year, up from $120 million in 2015. The point of that funding is to develop and test practices and provide "better information" to states and districts on what works in areas such as "implementing college- and career-ready standards, using data to inform instruction and personalize learning, and improving low-performing schools."

Free Higher Ed
At the college and university level, the proposed budget includes coverage for Obama's free community college program idea. The grant would provide funding to states to cover part of the cost of waiving tuition and fees for eligible students. For 2016 the projected amount would be $41 million. That would explode to $951 million for fiscal year 2017 and $2.4 billion for 2018, as schools and states implement their programs. Over the next decade that initiative would cost the feds $60 billion.

The new budget also reflects the White House's desire to create a college-level training fund for career and technical programs that incorporate "strong employer partnerships" to bring new works up to speed quickly in in-demand fields. A total of $200 million is added for that.

Evidence-based practices at the higher ed level also get a push in the proposed budget. The administration is looking to scale up innovative practices intended to improve college affordability and degree completion with its new "First in the World" program. The budget puts aside $200 million for that, a $140 million increase over the 2015 enacted level.

"America's education system led the world in the 20th century — we sent generations to college, and cultivated the most educated workforce in the world, which supported an unparalleled period of economic growth and rising middle class incomes," the preamble to the budget stated. "Since then, other countries have followed our lead to develop globally competitive education systems. America must lead the world in education once again. That requires both reform and investment, and the Budget does both — investing in what works to improve student outcomes."

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