March 18, 2010

Obama Plan Calls for Education-Funding Increase

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WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposes to boost education spending 9% to advance its overhaul of federal school-funding policy that has emerged as a rare patch of common ground for the administration and some Republicans.

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At the same time, Mr. Obama is using his 2011 Education Department budget proposal to signal plans to revamp the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind policies, which have stirred opposition from some teachers and school administrators. Mr. Obama states his intention to scrap the Bush-era accountability standards for a new system to be negotiated with Congress. Administration officials say that talks with Congress on how to revamp the No Child law remain preliminary.

Most of the additional $4.5 billion in spending proposed for the Education Department is slated to fund competitive programs, making the budget a key part of an administration bid to transform how local school officials interact with the federal government.

Under the proposed new rules, states and school districts will be judged, among other things, on whether they are promoting higher testing standards and enforcing teacher accountability. Those that aren’t will lose out.

“This is a philosophical and strategic shift,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The administration is gearing up to rewrite sections of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which guides much of the government’s interactions with the states. Educators have bridled for years under the accountability standards of the Bush law. Instead of the strict test-based standards, the administration said in a release that it wants “a new system built around the goal of helping all students graduate high school college- and career-ready.”

Some critics question whether it makes sense to ramp up education funding so quickly. “I am skeptical about adding money at a time of fiscal austerity when it’s not clear that it is really driving reform,” says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, an advocacy group that supports charter schools, which receive public money but are run privately.

Associated PressA school nurse teaches first-graders how to avoid spreading germs at Rock Creek elementary school in Beaverton, Ore., in September.



That administration’s efforts have won praise from Republican lawmakers and prominent conservatives, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has traveled the country promoting the policies with Mr. Duncan.

The budget seeks $1.35 billion more for the competitive “Race to the Top” grant program, which was launched with $4.35 billion as part of last year’s stimulus program. Forty states have applied for a first round of money, which will be awarded to states according how they stack up on such criteria as testing standards, data collection and graduation rates.

Most of the remaining new money would go to a mix of competitive programs to turn around failing schools, improve teacher training and boost high-school graduation rates.

Andrew Smarick, a former Education Department official in the Bush administration, applauds the tilt toward competitive funding but notes it will leave the bulk of funding unchanged. “It’s not yet the revolution they are suggesting,” he said.

Write to Neil King Jr. at


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