Obama's Last Education Budget Proposal: Building a Legacy

In the last year of a two-term presidency, the sitting president proposes his last budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In most cases, especially if Congress' majority is of the opposing party, the budget is dead on arrival (DOA). This year is no different. President Obama announced his last proposed budget on Tuesday, February 8, 2016.

This budget proposal makes investments that build upon the President's education goals and objectives that are to advance educational equity and excellence, support teachers and school leaders, and promote college access, affordability and completion. In essence it is an effort to be the education legacy for his presidency.

"The President's budget reflects the Administration's broader efforts to expand opportunity and ensure every child can achieve his or her full potential," says 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."

It provides $69.4 billion in discretionary funding, a 2 percent increase over the 2016 appropriation. The budget also includes $139.7 billion in new mandatory funding over the next decade. The budget supports the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and supports several of the reforms the Administration has long supported to improve outcomes for all students.

The budget also builds on the progress made in education over the last seven years. This includes an increased high school graduation rate to an all-time high of 82 percent; dropout rates are at historic lows; since 2008, more than 1 million additional African-American and Hispanic students have enrolled in college; and more students are graduating from college than ever before. It is clear that much more work is left to do to ensure every student – regardless of background, income, race, ZIP code, disability or native language – receives a world-class education that prepares him or her to succeed in postsecondary education, careers and life and be productive citizens.

President Barack Obama's FY 2017 budget proposes spending billions on his education legacy, but might not invest enough for advocates focused on implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. But the devil is in the details.

Politics and FY 2017 Budget Proposal
Given this is an election year, any budget proposed by a lame-duck president is clearly a target from all sides, especially the opposition party. In addition, the past few years have not been smooth waters in Congress, especially within the Republican Party. And it will not be smooth sailing for this proposal. Republicans immediately announced the rejection of the president's budget.

Also, GOP leaders announced that they are ignoring the White House budget rather than engage in another round of brinksmanship with the president. They even broke with a four-decade tradition and declined to invite Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to give his customary testimony on the spending proposal.

Republican leaders in both houses are facing another conservative uprising over spending. This threatens to derail the two-year budget compromise crafted last year with President Obama and congressional leaders. The spending standoff will test Speaker Paul Ryan's promise to bring regular order – passing a budget, then spending bills – and good governance back to a chronically gridlocked Congress.

Ryan is facing a series of hurdles as he tries to pass his first budget since becoming Speaker of the House. The conservatives in the House are revolting against the higher spending levels President Obama and GOP leaders agreed to last fall, and the Speaker is being squeezed by a tight calendar – a result of the presidential election. There will be a longer-than-usual summer recess to accommodate the political conventions. This means the House is trying to complete its budget in early March. Is this wishful thinking? And what are the consequences if they don't?

This proposed budget falls far shy of conservative spending targets, which could expose lawmakers to attacks from outside groups and top GOP presidential candidates such as Senator Ted Cruz. One cannot forget in this election year all House members and one-third of the Senate, as well as a large number of Republican-held state houses, are up. It all comes down to a "credibility issue, and at some point if we are going to gain or garner that trust back from voters, if we say we are going to hold the line [on spending], then we've got to do it," says freshman Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC). That Republican Steering Committee members like Walker are contemplating opposing the fiscal 2017 budget is giving the GOP leaders some serious heartburn, a leadership source said.

Three budget fights to watch in the coming weeks and months:

  • House leadership vs. the Freedom Caucus
  • Republican policy priorities vs. other Republican policy priorities
  • Mitch McConnell vs. the Vote-a-Rama

An important reason for Republicans to complete a budget this year is reconciliation. The GOP is exploring whether they would be able to preserve the filibuster-proof powers into the next Congress as long as they keep a majority in the House and Senate. There are special rules governing reconciliation, which reduces the chances of filibusters, but opens the opportunity for numerous amendments to be attached to the budget bill sent to the floor.

All in all, both the election and conservative reaction to the proposed budget are creating a rough road for Speaker Ryan and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They need the vote count to be correct to complete the budget and appropriations process in a timely fashion. There will be very few days on the legislative calendar from August through early October due to the election.

Overview of the Budget Proposal
This 2017 Budget Request focuses on four major priorities: (1) increasing equity and opportunity for all students; (2) expanding support for teachers and school leaders; (3) improving access, affordability, and student outcomes in postsecondary education; and (4) promoting greater use of evidence and data. In addition, the budget makes a crosscutting commitment to promote greater use of evidence and data to maximize results for taxpayers and students.

If one wants to examine the budget summary or other related documents, they can be found here: www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget17

Each of the priorities and the key budget requests are as follows:
Increasing Equity and Opportunity for All Students
Equality of opportunity is a core American value that helps form our national identity, solidify our democracy, and strengthen our economy. Highlighted investments are:

  • $15.4 billion for Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies – this includes $173.7 million to augment local efforts aimed at turning around low-performing schools.
  • $1.3 billion in mandatory funding for Preschool for All and a total of $75 billion over 10 years – to support implementation of universal high-quality preschool programs aligned to local school systems so all children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. There is also a request in the HHS budget for $350 million in discretionary funds to jointly administer a Preschool Development grant program authorized under ESSA.
  • $12.8 billion for IDEA Formula Grant Programs – to provide funding for a variety of programs for services and educational opportunities to children with disabilities.
  • $500 million in first-time funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants – provides formula grant funds to be used to support a wide range of authorized activities to promote a well-rounded education for safe and healthy students and the effective use of technology.
  • $403 million for State Assessments – an increase of $25 million to support State-identified needs for developing and implementing next-generation assessment systems and fund state and local audits of assessment systems.
  • $120 million for a proposed Stronger Together grant program – supports planning and implementation grants for voluntary, community-supported efforts to develop and implement strategies to address the effects of concentrated poverty.
  • $350 million for the Charter Schools Program – an increase of $16.8 million and targeting funds on charter management organizations with schools with diverse student populations.
  • $115 million for Magnet Schools – an increase of 19 percent to support a new competition as part of ESSA.
  • $4 billion in mandatory funding over three years for the Computer Science for All State grants – to stimulate and advance comprehensive State efforts to offer rigorous coursework to all students preschool through Grade 12. This includes computer science coursework. View a Fact Sheet on this initiative here.
  • $100 million for a proposed Computer Science for All Development grants – to promote innovative strategies to provide high-quality instruction and other learning opportunities in computer science.
  • $180 million for the Education Innovation and Research Program – an increase of 50 percent as the successor to the i3 program to support evidence-based initiatives for effective interventions.
  • $128 million for Promised Neighborhoods – an increase of 75 percent – to support up to 15 new competitive grants.
  • $80 million for a new Next Generation High School program – promoting the whole school redesign of the high school experience through competitive grants to LEAs and their partners.

Expanding Support for Teachers and School Leaders
The key investments are:

  • $1 billion for a mandatory RESPECT: Best Job in the World Program – to support the redesign of an estimated 200 high-need schools and to create models that transform these schools.
  • $2.25 billion for the reauthorized ESSA Title II, Part A, Supporting Effective Instruction State grants – funding for ongoing State and local efforts to ensure that every child has access to effective teachers.
  • $250 million for a reauthorized Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grant program – a 9 percent increase to develop, implement and improve or expand human capital management systems and performance-based compensation systems that focus on recruitment and retention.
  • $125 million for a proposed Teacher and Principal Pathways program – for competitive grants to institutions of higher education and other nonprofit entities to support the creation and expansion of high-quality teacher and principal preparation programs.
  • $30 million for the School Leader and Recruitment and Support program – an 83 percent increase to improve recruitment, preparation, placement, support and retention.
  • $100 million for the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) – an increase of $6 million for State efforts to improve teacher and principal effectiveness.
  • $10 million for a proposed "Teach to Lead" program – based on the initial success of teacher leadership projects.
  • A proposal to expand and increase teacher loan forgiveness by providing up to $25,000 for teachers graduating from an effective preparation program who serve in low-income schools starting in 2021.

Improving Access, Affordability, and Student Outcomes in Postsecondary Education
Highlighted investments in reforms and innovations that will increase graduation rates and student aid to enable increased student access to postsecondary education are:

  • $1.26 billion for America's College Promise – create a new partnership with States to make two years of community college free for responsible students as well as grants to four-year HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) for up to two years at zero or reduced tuition.
  • $1.33 billion for Pell Accelerated Completion – allowing full-time students the opportunity to earn a third semester of Pell Grants in an academic year.
  • $689 million for an increase in Pell Grants for students taking at least 15 credits in a semester – to create an incentive for students to take enough credits for on-time graduation. Students would receive an additional $300 in their annual Pell Grants.
  • $548 million in the mandatory budget for College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus program – to support colleges that successfully enroll and graduate on time a significant number of low- and moderate-income students.
  • Full funding for the maximum Pell Grant award – $5,935 in award year 2017-18 and $6,235 for those taking at least 15 credit hours per semester.
  • Reforming campus-based student aid programs.
  • Expanding postsecondary opportunity to incarcerated individuals eligible for release through the Second Chance Pell proposal that restores their eligibility.
  • Simplifying FASFA by eliminating burdensome and unnecessary complex questions.
  • Improving and streamlining income-driven repayment – creating a single, simple and better-targeted plan for borrowers while helping manage their debt.
  • $100 million for First in the World program – competitive awards to support strategies to improve postsecondary completion rates for high-need students.
  • $30 million for HBCU and MSI Innovation for Completion Fund – competitive grant program to foster innovative and evidence-based strategies to increase the number of low-income students and students of color completing degrees.
  • $900 million for Federal TRIO programs – to provide funding for 3,000 TRIO projects and a new demonstration initiative.
  • $607 million for adult education – to assist adults without a high school diploma to become literate and obtain knowledge and skills necessary for postsecondary education, employment or self-sufficiency.
  • $75 million American Technical Training Fund – a new competitive grant program designed to support the development, operation and expansion of innovative, evidence-based, tuition-free, short-term or accelerated job training. Jointly administered by Education and Labor. View a fact sheet on this initiative here.

Promoting Greater Use of Evidence and Data
Through IES, an effort to encourage grantees and practitioners to use evidence and data in different ways to improve student outcomes through high-quality research about what works in education. There are three initiatives:

  • $209.3 million for Research, Development and Dissemination (RDD) program – a 7 percent increase to expand efforts to identify effective strategies for improving student learning and disseminate this information to policy makers and practitioners.
  • $125.4 million for the Statistics Program – a 12 percent increase to enable the agency to collect critical and timely information on a wide range of high-priority policy issues.
  • Crosscutting budget support for InformED – builds on the success of the new College Scorecard by making the Department's data and research across education spectrum more available.

Pending Education Legislation
It is important to note that there have been rumblings about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the Career and Technical Education Act in the coming months. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will probably use a report written by the higher education lobby groups as the foundation for a Higher Education Act reauthorization. There are possibilities for either or both but with the limited calendar it is doubtful anything will pass the full Congress. However, bills may be introduced as placeholders for the first session of the 115th Congress.

In Conclusion
Not everyone is happy with this proposal, including some of the education stakeholder groups. Some of the concerns that have been voiced are:

  • Disappointment over the budget funding freezes for key foundational education programs including IDEA state grants; the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title II Supporting Effective Instruction; Impact Aid; Rural Education; Career and Technical Education State grants; Adult Education State grants; Federal Supplemental Educational opportunity grants; Federal Work Study; TRIO; GEAR UP; aid to HBCUs, HSIs, and other minority-serving institutions.
  • While Title I funding is proposed to increase by $450 million, in reality that is a freeze at the combined FY 2016 level for Title I and School Improvement Grants (SIG), because the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) absorbed SIG into Title I and increased the school improvement set-aside from 4 percent to 7 percent. Thus, $200 million is cut from school district allocations, resulting in many school districts receiving a smaller initial Title I allocation than they did in FY 2016.
  • Opposition to the proposed cut to 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Impact Aid payments for federal property, international education, Library Services State grants, and the elimination of Teacher Quality Partnerships.

The budget proposal does eliminate the harmful sequester caps and cuts in the FY 2018 and beyond that make it very difficult to provide needed investments in education and related programs.

I believe both Impact Aid and 21st Century Community Learning Centers will have their budgets restored, given the significant across-the-aisle support for these programs. In general the education association community seems to be pleased with the proposal, give or take some of the items mentioned above.

The outcome will depend on the Republican leadership in the House and Senate, especially who wins the three budget battles mentioned above. Clearly, the budget proposal will be tweaked, altered, and will not fully resemble what the president has proposed. But the process has begun.

It will be an interesting process to watch and see what finally comes out if one does, or we will have another continuing resolution that will satisfy no one.