Strengthening Our Economic Security Through Education: Obama's Proposed FY 2011 Budget for PreK-12 Education

President Obama proposed on Feb. 1, an education budget for fiscal year 2011 that takes a bold approach to elementary and secondary education. The administration’s support for education is shaped by the belief that education is the way to create better economic security today and the future. This budget also reflects the President’s broader commitment to providing more flexibility, transparency, reducing red tape and holding department programs accountable for results.

The two main themes of this FY 2011 budget request are education reform and college access. When Secretary Duncan talks about this budget, he describes it as addressing the needs from the “cradle to career.” This makes it difficult at times to differentiate between PreK-12 and postsecondary education budget and program requests, since many are linked together.

The overall Department of Education request is for $77.8 billion dollars. There is a six percent increase in discretionary spending. Of significance is a $3 billion increase in programs that are part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This includes $1.35 billion is for a third round of Race to the Top (RTTT) and $500 million for Investing in Innovation (i3). Also, the Administration has promised to request an additional billion dollars upon the reauthorization of ESEA, which they are trying to complete by the end of calendar year 2010. Many, but not all, of the budget proposals are contingent on Congressional action, including the reauthorization of ESEA and the pending student financial aid legislation in the Senate.

Included in the department’s budget proposal is a request for $9.3 billion for competitive grants to states over the next 10 years to improve the quality of early learning programs and prepare students for success in kindergarten. This program would be jointly administered by ED and HHS and is dependent on pending legislation for the Early Learning Challenge Fund.

The budget proposal consolidates 38 ESEA programs into five funding streams that include 11 programs and eliminates six other agency programs that either duplicate state or local programs or have simply not had a significant measurable impact.

The funding streams are:
  • Excellent Instruction Teams (nine existing programs consolidated into three)
  • Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education (15 existing programs to three)
  • Expanding Educational Options (five existing programs to one)
  • College Pathways and Accelerated Learning (three existing programs to one)
  • Supporting Student Success (six existing programs into one, plus Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Community Learning Centers)

Also, the proposal makes permanent Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation.

The key increases for the PreK-12 education in the proposed budget include the following.

  • $250 million for special education students, pushing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants to states total to $11.76 billion.
  • $50 million for English language learner (ELL) programs, bringing the total to $800 million.
  • $1.35 billion for additional Race to the Top awards, reflecting the extraordinary interest demonstrated by states in developing and implementing Race to the Top plans (41 states and the District of Columbia submitted applications for the first round of the RTTT competition) and the meaningful changes states are undertaking to be competitive for such grants. The administration is also asking for authority to run a district-level competition for districts willing and able to tackle comprehensive reform.
  • $500 million to continue the new Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which will be launched with $650 million in ARRA funds and which makes competitive awards to develop and expand innovative strategies and practices that have been shown to be effective in improving educational outcomes for students. The 2011 request both includes a cross-cutting emphasis on technology and dedicates $150 million to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) projects.
  • $900 million for a reauthorized School Turnaround Grants program, an increase of $354.4 million (65 percent) to support the administration's commitment to help states and local educational agencies (LEAs) turn around their 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years.
  • $950 million for the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, a new program, building on the strengths of the Teacher Incentive Fund, to support state and LEA efforts to develop and implement innovative improvements in human capital systems. This program would more than double support for state and local efforts to create incentives for effective teachers and school leaders to work in the most challenging schools.
  • $405 million for Teacher and Leader Pathways, a new program that would consolidate five current authorities promoting alternative routes to certification for teachers and school leaders and improving existing teacher and principal preparation programs into a more flexible competitive grant program with a greater focus on student outcomes. The request would almost triple funding for the antecedent programs.
  • $1.0 billion for Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education, a new program designed to improve instruction to support college- and career-readiness standards, in part through the use of technology to deliver high-quality content. The new program includes three components.
    • Literacy: $450 million, an increase of $36.7 million, to consolidate seven existing ESEA authorities into a new program that would help states and LEAs improve literacy skills by supporting professional development and improved instructional materials.
    • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): $300 million, an increase of $119.5 million (66 percent) to expand the federal investment in improved teaching and learning of STEM disciplines, especially in high-need LEAs and schools, and prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers.
    • A Well-Rounded Education: $265 million, an increase of $38.9 million (17 percent) to consolidate seven current authorities and expand support for the subjects important to a complete curriculum, including history, the arts, foreign languages, environmental literacy and economic and financial literacy.
  • $490 million for Expanding Educational Options, an increase of $80.9 million (20 percent) to consolidate five existing programs into this new authority to support the creation and expansion of effective charter schools, other effective autonomous schools and comprehensive systems of public school choice.
  • $450 million for a reauthorized Assessing Achievement authority, an increase of $39.3 million (almost 10 percent) to help states develop or implement assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards, to improve assessments for English learners and students with disabilities and to develop and implement formative as well as end-of-course and other assessments.
  • $210 million to expand the Promise Neighborhoods initiative, to make competitive multi-year awards to community-based organizations for comprehensive neighborhood programs designed to combat the effects of poverty and improve educational and life outcomes for children and youth. This is a new initiative to provide funding to 10 different communities to try to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone and encourages applicants to also look for funding from such federal departments as Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Justice.
  • $410 million for a new Successful, Safe and Healthy Students authority, to consolidate six current authorities into a new program designed to give local communities the flexibility to focus on their greatest needs in the areas of improving school climate and safety: promoting student physical and mental health, preventing student drug and alcohol use and expanding family and community engagement. The request is an increase of $45 million (12 percent) over 2010 funding for the antecedent program authorities.

This education budget also supports several performance goals of the administration, including data driven decisions that support states to implement comprehensive statewide longitudinal data systems that link student achievement and teacher data, and link K-12 education with postsecondary education data; and ensuring that states have in place comprehensive teacher evaluation systems based on multiple measures of effectiveness, including student achievement, that are used for decisions concerning professional development, tenure, retention and compensation.

This should make for a very interesting appropriation process since 571 earmarks have been eliminated from the department’s budget. And several of these might be considered “sacred cows” by the education establishment.


Fritz Edelstein is a principal in the Public Private Action, a consulting group. His work focuses on strategic government and constituent relations; business development strategy; advocacy research and policy analysis; strategic planning and resource development; and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. This work includes producing Fritzwire, the leading education Internet newsletter providing timely information on education and related issues. He can be reached at fritz@publicprivateaction.com.


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