Investing for the Future: FY 2012 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget Request

Given the nation’s current budget deficit, President Obama released on February 14, 2011 his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012. For some sectors, the comment has been that this is no Valentine! But for the education sector, it indicated an overall investment. Not including Pell grants, the proposed budget for FY 2012 requests $48.8 billion for the Department of Education, an increase of $2 billion (4.3 percent over the FY 2011 budget request). Also, this budget provides the framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This year is very different than previous ones. The stage is set with the House of Representatives under the control of the Republicans, the Senate under the Democrats and a Democrat in the White House. Battle lines are already drawn as a result of the 2010 mid-term election and a significant national deficit.

Presently, two critical budget debates are underway in Washington, D.C., and a third pending later this spring. One is the proposed FY 2012 budget (described above) and the other is funding for the current FY 2011, which is currently under a Continuing Resolution (CR) — no final appropriation. The most recent CR expires on March 4. If the two houses cannot agree on a new CR, the federal government will shut down, and right now as a result of the House vote on February 19th, this is the direction things are going.

House Republicans were successful in cutting $61 billion from the FY 2011’s remaining eight months of which about $5 billion is education funding. These cuts will not be supported in the Senate during the week of February 28. No program was spared the budget ax, even those which had been sacred to Republicans over the years. Cuts were made to Head Start, Title I, Pell Grants, National Public Radio, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Americorps and many other education and related programs. Also, this is a signal as to what may be in store for the FY 2012 budget proposal.

The week of February 28 will be a very telling week. Will the two houses be able to come to a compromise or extend the CR? And the third debate that has yet to begin in Congress is extending the debt ceiling for the nation. Depending on your point of view, it might be seen as a perfect storm to address our budget priorities, tax reform and the deficit.

The president’s education budget proposal includes both investments, and deep cuts and efficiencies in education programs to keep “American students competitive in the global economy….” The budget eliminates 13 programs, which saves $147 million; reduces $235 million from career and technical education grants, but it also makes several new investments through targeted funding focusing on competitiveness and a continuing commitment to protect students most at-risk.

There are five core priority areas for the education budget of which four are in elementary and secondary education. They are:
  • Support Early Learning
  • Sustaining Important Reform
  • Great Teachers and Leaders in Every School
  • College Completion
  • Supporting Students At-Risk

Some of the budget investments reflect these priorities include:
  • $350 million for a new Early Learning Challenge Fund to boost quality or early learning programs
  • $900 million for a district-level Race to the Top competition
  • $300 million for a new round of i3 (Investing in Innovation) grants
  • $300 million increase for the Title I formula program (now being called College- and Career-Ready Students)
  • $200 increase for IDEA formula programs
  • $150 million for the Promise Neighborhoods program, which integrates educational and social services in targeted communities
  • $100 million increase for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (after school and extended day) for a total of $1.27 billion
  • $54 million increase to turn around low-performing schools for a total request of $600 million
  • $4.3 billion for teacher and principal preparation programs. This includes formula grants to states, alternative certification programs, STEM teacher prep, support for a well-round education curriculum, minority teaching programs and scholarships for high-achieving students to work in high-needs schools.
  • $90 million for a new education research and development program to be called ARPA-ED and based on the DoD DARPA model to fund pre-K though postsecondary education projects.
  • $60 million more for research and evaluation programs in the Institute of Education Sciences

The budget proposal also reflects the administration’s strategy for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind). The proposal establishes some new program organization such as Successful, Safe and Healthy Students. This incorporates all of the old Safe and Drug Free Schools programs. Similarly, Expanding Educational Options includes all the charter school and small learning community programs.

One of the areas where the administration is investing heavily in this proposed budget is teaching, leadership and learning. One of the new consolidations being proposed is Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants in the amount of $3.25 billion which incorporates the old Teacher Quality State grants, Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, Teach for America and other teacher grant programs.

Another consolidation is entitled Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education with a total request of $835.5 million. This includes Striving Readers, Even Start, National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, Arts in Education and other programs.

Even with all of this positive news, one must be quite wary of the budget and appropriations battles that have already begun for both the current fiscal year and FY 2012. Clearly, deficit reduction is on the minds of most Americans and definitely on the Hill’s agenda. OMB Director, Jacob Lew, has already received significant criticism for this budget proposal while testifying on the Hill and asked why the President did not take any of the advice given by his own deficit commission.

Stay tuned. The action is just beginning. If nothing else, this budget proposal frames the debate about priorities, philosophy and strategies for federal spending and tax reform. Round one of the debate should be completed around March 4 when the CR expires. For a complete view of the Department of Education’s proposed FY 2012 budget go to:

Fritz Edelstein is a principal in the Public Private Action, a consulting group. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations; business development strategy; advocacy research and policy analysis; strategic planning and resource development; and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the leading education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. He can be reached at [email protected]