Bleak Budget Request Threatens Well-Rounded Education

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Well, the Obama administration warned educators not to expect continued funding increases in the post-ARRA era, and they were right.

Pay no attention to the big numbers being bandied about for school modernization ($30 billion!) and teacher stabilization ($25 billion!) that are being cited as part of the FY13 budget. These are really provisions within a reworked American Jobs Act that was first introduced last fall and gained so little traction at the time that the administration saw fit to reintroduce it now.

No, the real number to focus on is the $1.72 billion (+2.5 percent) increase in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, most of which, unfortunately from the K–12 perspective, is for a new $1 billion college affordability competition (higher education’s version of the Race to the Top program).

The mainstays of federal K–12 funding—Title I, IDEA, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, English Language Acquisition grants, TRIO, Gear Up, and career and technical education—are all funded at last year’s levels.

Even worse, the FY13 request again proposes to consolidate separate grant programs for Teaching American History, economic education, Arts in Education, and civics into a single pot for which the various subject disciplines would compete against one another. The same proposal was made last year and the folly of that approach is borne out in FY12’s stark numbers for those programs.

Under the consolidation plan, the subject grants became a target of congressional budget cutters because each program didn’t have a specific dollar figure associated with it. Thus,

  • Teaching American History went from $119 million in FY10, to $46 million in FY11, to 0 in FY12.
  • Foreign language assistance went from $27 million in FY11 to 0 in FY12.

All told, the subject grant programs that used to be funded at $102 million in FY11 are now down to a meager $90 million in FY13. All that is standing between the complete elimination of funding for these well-rounded programs is the $25 million currently received by Arts in Education—sure to be a target for reduction again later this year.

This is a bleak budget request. K–12 educators will have to fight hard this year just to preserve the existing funding they are getting via Title I, IDEA, and the well-rounded subjects.