The Obama administration released its FY15 budget earlier this month. For educators, the spending proposal offers a number of insights into the president’s domestic priorities, including where education ranks among these. Because the omnibus spending agreement (also known as the “Ryan-Murray” deal) Congress passed in January that partially restored the sequestration cuts made to education programs and other government activities is the controlling budget authority for both the current FY14 and pending FY15 budgets, the administration’s budget plan is more superfluous than usual.
For FY15, the omnibus agreement maintains overall government funding at existing levels (no increase, but no sequestration decreases either). While there will be no overall funding increase, it is still possible to shift allocations among departments and programs to increase funding in some areas while decreasing funding in others. In this overall context, the president’s FY15 education budget request should be viewed in terms of its message and priorities and not as a spending proposal that Congress will reasonably consider.
The four funding priorities for the administration in education are as follows:
- Early childhood education – a new $1.3 billion investment as part of a 10-year, $75 billion plan to provide “preschool for all.” Democrats have introduced legislation to create this program in both the House and Senate but it is not expected to pass this year.
- A renewed emphasis on professional development and teacher quality:
- A one-time, $5 billion investment in professional development for existing teachers.
- $250 million for professional development to use technology and personalized learning in support of college and career readiness standards.
- Consolidating and revamping funding under the current Title II – Teacher Quality State Grant Program.
- A continued preference for competitive grant programs:
- Maintain funding for the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grants to support promising practices in local districts.
- $300 million for a new Race to the Top local district competition to close achievement gaps among high-poverty schools.
- $320 million for STEM grants to local districts.
- $150 million for local high school redesign grants.
- $100 million to expand the administration’s Promise Neighborhoods modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone.
- The common thread connecting the preceding three priorities is the support or alignment with college & career ready standards that relate in some way to all of these programmatic activities.
More broadly, the president’s FY15 budget is encouraging because in a time of extremely constrained budget parameters, education was one of the select few departments to see any increase at all. This bodes well for the administration’s potential support for shifting some existing resources from other agencies into education for a net funding increase in FY15. The big ticket items such as preschool for all and the $5 billion for professional development, however, may not receive funding in FY15.
The administration continues to favor small-bore, competitive grant programs at the expense of funding the larger formula grant programs that constitute the bulk of federal K–12 funding. The administration is again not seeking an increase for Title I and only granting a $100 million increase for IDEA state grants in FY15. Consistent with the secretary’s vocal support of the Common Core State Standards, the budget request would support these college & career ready standards in a multitude of subtle and substantial ways.
Now more than ever, FY15 spending is a zero-sum game. Any increase in funding for one department will have to result in a corresponding decrease in funding for another. Educators will have to make their voices heard just to maintain funding for K–12 programs at current levels and persuasively make the case for even nominal increases in key areas.