The final budget for the Department of Education was finalized late last month, which will take the agency through September 30, 2012. Overall, the Department’s funding was cut by about $153 million over last fiscal year (total funding $71.3 billion), but President Obama was able to fend off the complete annihilation of programs such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and School Improvement Grants; however, this victory is not being cheered unanimously.
Preserving these competitive grant programs came at the expense of other proposals, such as one put forward by House Republicans that would have eliminated the programs in favor of large funding increases to formula-funded programs for disadvantaged children and special education. In the new budget, Title I grants and federal special education funds only get tiny increases. Some state superintendents, such as Kirk Miller of the Bozeman, Montana public school district, argue that favoring the competitive grant programs over formula-driven federal funding does not promote “a level playing field for rural states like Montana to obtain funding.”
In the end, Race to the Top received $550 million for the next round of competition; $160 million is appropriated for a new birth to 12th grade literacy program; Promise Neighborhoods gets $60 million (double what it was appropriated last year); and Early Head Start is funded at $8 billion (up from $757.6 billion).
Investing in Innovation and the School Improvement Grant program maintained their previous funding levels. However, the Teacher Incentive Fund, a program that provides grants to help districts establish pay-for-performance programs, was cut from $400 million to $300 million. To compensate, 1.5% of the $2.5 billion Improving Teacher Quality State grant program is being set aside to fund a competitive teacher-quality program. These competitive grants would be open to districts, states, and national nonprofits who lost federal aid in FY2011, such as Teach for America and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Additionally, some programs were scrapped altogether, such as the Foreign Language Assistance Program, the Teaching American History Program, and Voluntary Public School Choice.
On another note, a $65 million flexible “pot” was established, with $28.6 million set aside for the support of literacy programs. Half of that sum is set aside for improving school libraries in low-income communities. The other half is available to nonprofit organizations that provide books or other literacy activities to low-income communities.
It is unclear how the Department of Education budget will look next fiscal year, particularly in regard to the competitive grant programs. As these programs are not typically favored by Republicans, their fate is likely dependent on the outcome of the 2012 elections.
To read more about the 2012 federal education budget, please visit http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/12/21/15budget-overview.h31.html?tkn=LZZFvK2Lp%2BiGE1wpO2r3Pi%2BUgOfBvRnxp5QZ&cmp=clp-edweek