By Douglas Fehlen
'We Can't Sacrifice Our Future'
The president's proposed 2012 budget features widespread spending cuts that critics worry will lead to harmful reductions in public programs. Designed to trim the federal deficit by $1.1 trillion over the next ten years, the president's budget features diminished funding for some 200 programs that provide everything from heating assistance to hospital grants.
One area, however, that largely escaped major cuts was education. With a proposed operating budget of $77.4 billion, the Department of Education (DOE) would see a funding increase of 11 percent. 'While it's absolutely essential to live within our means,' President Obama explained, 'we can't sacrifice our future in the process. We have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future.'
Within any budget, of course, initiatives must be prioritized. In the president's latest plan, one area of emphasis is Race to the Top, a program that provides grants to public schools implementing education reforms. Last year, states competed for some $4 billion; winners of the grant competition were chosen based on the perceived efficacy of plans to improve education and raise student achievement.
The proposed budget would provide $900 million for continuation of the program in K-12 schools with some tweaks. For example, grant monies were previously awarded at the state level. The latest round of program support would stipulate awarding funds to specific school districts, including some in rural areas. And an additional $500 million has been called for to expand the Race to the Top concept to early childhood education and higher ed.
While advocates of Race to the Top are no doubt happy to see that President Obama has made funding the initiative a priority in his budget, analysts point out that much legislative jockeying will shape any spending bill to eventually pass in the U.S. Congress. It may be months before any clear picture of the 2012 budget emerges, particularly given that a 2011 fiscal budget has yet to be approved.
Select lawmakers have expressed doubts about Race to the Top, some echoing the concerns of education analysts who believe the initiative puts too much emphasis on standardized tests and punishes schools by not equitably distributing resources. Even among legislators who believe in the initiative, Race to the Top is unlikely to be the funding priority it is to the president. It's possible, then, that the initiative could still be the subject of cuts when difficult budget decisions must be made.
Learn about some of the key players at the U.S. Department of Education.