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Obama Proposes Boost In Federal Support for Education

By Alain Jehlen

February 2, 2010 -- Teacher leaders are applauding President Obama’s proposed budget boost for education, which comes despite an overall freeze in federal spending for domestic programs.

"Despite the serious economic challenges we currently face, the President remains steadfast in his commitment to our students and the future of our country," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. 

The budget increases support for education at all ages, from pre-school through college. Along with “green” jobs, education stands out as an area of increased investment. The President's budget "reflects his understanding that education fuels success," Van Roekel said.

Besides a proposed $3.5 billion (7.5 percent) increase in federal education funds, President Obama said he would ask for an additional $1 billion investment if Congress rewrites and renews the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), whose current incarnation is No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Revamping ESEA is also a top priority for America’s teachers, who have been laboring under its one-size-fits-all obsession with test scores since NCLB took effect in 2002.

President Obama made clear his attitude to education in last week’s State Of The Union address when he said, “In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” The budget proves the President’s willingness to back up the rhetoric with action.

NEA also supports the new jobs program, which would make it possible for thousands of educators to continue working with America’s children rather than hitting the unemployment line. State and local revenues continue to be so weak that they need federal help to avoid cuts that will harm children.

However, NEA urged caution on some aspects of the proposed budget. Federal education officials have indicated they want to move away from formula grants in which states receive funds in proportion to their numbers of students in various categories such as low-income. The officials have said—and the budget demonstrates—they want to shift to more competition in awarding grants. While competitive grants can promote innovation, formula grants provide much-needed local district budget stability, which is also essential to quality education. Both are therefore necessary.

Also, some parts of the budget, including a $1.35 billion extension of “Race To The Top,” are tied to “pay-for-performance” ideas that have been tried for over 100 years but have never been shown to work. NEA proposes that this aspect of “Race To The Top” be studied before it is expanded further. NEA believes teachers should be evaluated by multiple measures, not just student test scores, which reflect many other factors besides the quality and hard work of the teacher.

"We applaud innovation in education as long as it helps to improve student success," Van Roekel said. "We look forward to continued collaboration with the administration to build a system of accountability that really prepares students for college and 21st century careers."


NEA resources on education funding