The President's FY 2016 Education Budget: Continuing to Invest in the Nation's Future

This article is on the President's FY 2016 budget proposal. It seems like an annual rite of spring. What is different? This year the release of the budget proposal is coupled with an energized Congressional effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA](aka No Child Left Behind) and the possibility of a few other education bills before the end of 2015. First the budget request will be described and followed by an update on the reauthorization of ESEA.

President Obama released his annual budget request to Congress for FY 2016 on time this year — Feb. 2, 2015. The theme for this budget is, seeking to expand educational opportunity for all students. The president's request for the U.S Department of Education is $70.7 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $3.6 billion — or 5.4 percent — over the FY 2015 level, and $145 billion in new mandatory funding.

In his State of the Union address, the president emphasized education as a vital investment in America's economic competitiveness, in its communities, and in its people. The 2016 budget proposal is "designed to bring middle class economics into the 21st Century with an objective of investing in the nation's future and commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America."

The education budget proposal includes efforts to expand high-quality early learning programs, increase equity and opportunity for all students, support teachers and school leaders, and improve access, affordability, and student outcomes in college.

In the budget release Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated, "The President's budget reflects this Administration's belief that every single child in this country deserves the opportunity to receive a strong education. As demonstrated by the record high school graduation rate and by huge gains in college-going — especially for minority students — in states, school districts, educators, and students across the country are making real progress. The president's budget would continue and accelerate that progress." 

One must set the stage for this budget in the context of what other fiscal speed bumps the first session of the 114th Congress will be confronted. Each of these effect the budget and appropriations process as well as related legislation:

  • Expiration of the CR funding Homeland Security (Feb. 27, 2015)
  • Reinstatement of the debt ceiling (Mar. 16, 2015/Fall 2015)
  • Expiration of the "doc fix" and return of the SGR (Mar. 31, 2015)
  • Expiration of the highway bill, insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (May 31, 2015)
  • Expiration of 2015 appropriations, return of sequestration (Oct. 1, 2015)
  • Deadline to renew tax extenders retroactively (Dec. 31, 2015)
  • Insolvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund (late 2016)

The president's budget request includes proposed provisions to eliminate the looming threat of sequestration, paid for with spending cuts, program integrity measures and closing some tax loopholes. The White House describes this as "a compromise proposal intended as a show of good faith to spark additional negotiations with Congressional Republicans about the nation's long-term deficits and debt and to encourage all parties to come together to remove the economically-damaging sequestration cuts." Republicans did not warmly receive this approach.

What happens next?
The president's budget marks the start of the official FY 2016 appropriations process. The action now moves to Capitol Hill and will continue through the spring and summer. In Congress, the president's budget is seen as a statement of his administration's priorities. Congress will now begin their process to draft a budget resolution and subsequent appropriations bills reflecting their priorities with the goal of passing bills by the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2015. In reality, Congress rarely meets those deadlines but nevertheless the next few months are critical to making the case for education as well as the other budget requests.

Remember all money bills originate in the House of Representatives. This does not mean work is not done simultaneously in both houses. In fact, Senate Republicans aim to pass a budget resolution this spring and begin writing appropriations bills for each arm of government.

Overview of the Education Budget Proposal
The key investments in the President's budget for education include:

  • Expand high-quality early learning programs. $75 billion over 10 years for the Preschool for All proposal to provide universal high-quality preschool programs for all four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, $750 million for Preschool Development Grants (a $500 million increase) to help states lay the foundation for universal public preschool, and $900 million forpreschool and early intervention services for children with disabilities under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants (a $115 million increase).
  • Increase equity and opportunity for all students. An increase of $2.7 billion for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs (including a $1 billion increase for Title I) to ensure all students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, and an increase of $175 million for Part B special education and related services grants to states under IDEA.
  • Support teachers and school leaders. $5 billion over five years for the Teaching for Tomorrow proposal to support fundamental changes in how states and districts recruit and prepare teachers and strengthen professional support for teachers throughout their careers, and $350 million for Excellent Educators Grants to provide funds for states and districts committed to implementing new systems that develop, support, reward, and advance teachers and principals.
  • Improve higher education. The America's College Promise program would provide two years of free community college for students who earn good grades and are on track to graduate through a $60.3 billion investment in a new federal-state partnership over 10 years, Pell Grants would maintain the purchasing power of this critical need-based postsecondary grant assistance after 2017 through a $29.7 billion outlay, and the American Technical Training Fund would expand job opportunities through a $200 million investment in a joint effort with the Department of Labor.
  • Invest in what works. $300 million for the Investing in Innovation (i3) program (a $180 million increase) to develop, validate, and scale-up effective strategies and practices for improving K-12 student achievement in K-12 education, $200 million for the First in the World (FITW) program (a $140 million increase) that takes the same approach to improving outcomes in higher education, and funding directed to evidence-based uses of ESEA formula programs ($100 million), School Improvement Grants (a $50 million increase), and federal TRIO programs (a $20 million increase).

More information on the Department of Education's budget request can be found in the Education Budget Fact Sheet:

Related investments in different agency budget requests include:

  • $80 billion in increased funding for the Child Care Development Fund, along with an expansion of the child care tax credit to $3,000 per child, up from $1,000 to increase middle class access to quality, affordable child care
  • More than $1.5 billion in increased funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, aimed at helping programs extend the school day and year for low-income children who participate
  • $15 billion over the next 10 years to extend and expand evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs which serve low-income children and their families

Additional Detail on the Elementary and Secondary Education Portion:

There are several themes in this portion of the budget request, which are:

Increasing equity and opportunity for all students
To close the gaps that exist, the 2016 request provides $2.7 billion, or an almost 12 percent increase, for ESEA programs to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. Highlights include:

  • $15.4 billion for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, a $1 billion increase. Funds would be targeted to districts working to implement new college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessments, close achievement gaps, turn around their lowest-performing schools, and use new educator evaluation systems to improve instruction and provide better support to teachers.
  • $11.7 billion for the IDEA Grants to States program, an increase of $175 million to assist states and schools in covering the excess costs of providing special education and related services to individuals with disabilities, ages 3 through 21.
  • $773 million for English Language Acquisition grants, an increase of $36 million, to provide increased support to states as they help the significant growing number of English learners in U.S. schools attain English language proficiency and become college and career ready.
  • $150 million for Promise Neighborhoods, a $93 million increase, to support new awards to local partnerships to develop and implement comprehensive, neighborhood-based plans for meeting the cradle-to-career educational, health, and social services needs of children and families in high-poverty communities.
  • A new Equity and Outcomes Pilot for up to 10 participating Title I local educational agencies would give districts that are equitably distributing funding to their highest-poverty schools greater flexibility to use federal funds for district-level reforms.
  • $131 million for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), an increase of $30.7 million for an additional 200 full-time employees to help ensure that OCR has the resources to respond to complaints of discrimination and to ensure that Federal grantees follow civil rights laws.

Expanding high-quality early learning programs
Unequal access to education starts early, especially for those from low-income families, lack the opportunity to benefit from high-quality preschool, which helps ensure they arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The U.S. has fallen behind many countries in providing access to preschool education, and currently ranks just 25th in the world in its enrollment of four-year-olds. Highlights include:

  • $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding for Preschool for All to support the implementation of universal high-quality preschool programs that are aligned with elementary and secondary education systems and help ensure that all children arrive in kindergarten ready for success.
  • $750 million for the Preschool Development Grants program, a $500 million increase to build on the successful launch of this program in 2014 with awards to 18 states. This additional funding would support new awards to nearly every state that submits a high-quality application.
  • $504 million for the IDEA Grants for Infants and Families program, a $65 million increase, to assist States in providing high-quality early intervention services to approximately 340,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.
  • $403 million for IDEA Preschool Grants, a $50 million increase, to provide special education and related services to children ages 3 through 5. Under the current statute, LEAs may reserve up to 15 percent of the funds they receive under Part B of the IDEA to provide coordinated early intervening services (CEIS) to children in grades kindergarten through 12.

Supporting teachers and school leaders
The request provides significant support for teachers and leaders. Highlights include:

  • $1 billion in 2016, and a total of $5 billion over five years, for a new, mandatory Teaching for Tomorrow program that would provide funds to states or districts willing to make meaningful transformations in their approaches to recruiting, training, supporting, retaining, and advancing highly effective teachers throughout their careers. States and school districts will submit high-quality plans including strategies that are based on or build evidence of effectiveness.
  • $350 million for Excellent Educators Grants to support comprehensive human capital systems that effectively use teacher and principal evaluation, with multiple measures including student learning, to develop, support, reward and advance effective teachers and principals.
  • $138.8 million for a proposed Teacher and Principal Pathways consolidation that support the creation or expansion of high-quality pathways into the teaching and school leadership professions.
  • $200 million for Education Technology State Grants to support models for using technology to help teachers and school leaders improve instruction and personalize learning.

Additional detail on the Higher Education Request:
Improving Opportunity and Affordability in Higher Education

The total aid available to postsecondary students has grown dramatically during the Obama administration, helping to ensure that more students are graduating from college than ever before. However, fewer than one in 10 students from low-income families complete college. There is a need to close the opportunity gap so that all students — regardless of background or circumstance — can succeed in college, careers and life.

The higher-education budget request is designed to take steps to make college affordable, and to modernize and improve federal student aid.
Key elements include:

  • Provides $1.36 billion in 2016 for America's College Promise, a $60.3 billion investment over 10 years, which will create a new partnership with states to help them eliminate tuition and fees in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college.
  • Fully fund Pell Grants and tie the maximum award to inflation beyond 2017.
  • Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Obama administration has taken key steps toward simplifying the FAFSA, but it's still too complex and discouraging for too many students. An estimated 2 million students who would have qualified for a Pell Grant failed to complete the application.
  • The request makes income-driven student loan repayment simpler with a better-targeted plan that simplifies borrowers' experience and helps them better manage their debt.
  • Provides $860 million for the Federal TRIO programs, a $20 million increase, to enable the Department to maintain funding for approximately 2,800 TRIO projects. The request also supports a new TRIO initiative designed to give existing grantees the opportunity to compete for increased funding to implement, evaluate, and scale additional, evidence-based college access and success strategies.
  • Provides $200 million for the First in the World program, a $140 million increase from 2015. These competitive awards aim to improve postsecondary completion rates through innovative, promising, and evidence-based strategies. The administration plans to set aside up to 30 percent of the funds available for a competition to support the implementation of projects at Minority Serving Institutions.
  • Provides $200 million for a proposed American Technical Training Fund, to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs that use evidence-based practices, have strong employer partnerships, include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled so that they accommodate part-time work. This initiative would be jointly administered with the Department of Labor to ensure that the projects are well integrated into the workforce system.

The Status of Reauthorization of ESEA
The Student Success Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Kline, Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was marked-up by the committee on Feb. 11. The Committee passed [] its proposed No Child Left Behind rewrite (The Student Success Act) after a 10-hour markup in which lawmakers proposed over two dozen amendments tackling nearly every facet of the bill. Republicans approved the bill on party lines. Democrats spent hours [] detailing their problems with the legislation and offered amendments as alternatives. These were voted down.

After the House Committee's vote, Senator Lamar Alexander, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions stated, "Chairman Kline has worked diligently both in this Congress and in the last to pass a bill to fix No Child Left Behind. In the Senate, Ranking Member Murray and I are focused now on developing a bipartisan Chairman's mark to fix this broken law."

The House of Representatives plans to take up the bill on the floor the last week in February.

In the Senate, Senator Lamar Alexander has a similar fast track process. His time line is for a bill to be voted out of the HELP Committee by the end of March, if not sooner. As he stated above, he is trying to find common ground with Senator Patty Murray, the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee. Alexander is trying to have a bi-partisan bill come out of the HELP Committee as he did in working with the previous Committee Chair, former Senator Tom Harkin.

There is hope that each house will pass an ESEA bill and a conference committee will hash out the differences so a final bill for ESEA reauthorization is on the President's desk before the end of 2015. No one wants this effort to carry over into a Presidential election year.

Other Education Bills on the Horizon
Given what the President included in the postsecondary portion of his budget request, there seems to be consensus around several important student aid issues. These may be the basis for movement to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, at least the student financial aid portion of the legislation. Common interest and positions exist on such issues as the simplification of the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA), student loan program consolidation, and Pell grants.

Work has begun by staff in both Senate and House Committees on these issues. So it is possible another piece of legislation could find its way to both floors for a vote in 2015.

In Summary
The president's budget request is dead on arrival as it has been in the past. But even more so this year since the majority in both houses of Congress is in Republican hands. Some parts of the President's request are not dead, but the overall request is.

Republicans are currently battling over the Department of Homeland Security appropriation. It is now being held up in the Senate. The House has passed its version. There are differences in the Senate, and the current continuing appropriation ends on Feb. 27. It could get another extension or the agency would be shutdown. Several other important fiscal deadlines loom and will take up time as well as other important issues.

These include — March 31 when Medicare providers will face steep cuts in their payments unless Congress passes a law to head these off; at the end of May the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money; in June some portions of the Patriot Act expire and in the late summer early fall raising the debt ceiling must be addressed. Many of these will have contentious debates that will take up precious time.

All in all, it makes for an interesting and challenging first session of the 114th Congress. We will have to see how much they can accomplish.

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