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Obama to Highlight Education in Budget Rollout

UPDATED
In his fiscal 2013 budget request slated to roll out today, President Barack Obama is making a big push for continued investment in education, including emergency aid for K-12 schools, competitive grants for teacher-related programs, and a new $8 billion fund to encourage jobs training initiatives at community colleges. Overall, the president is requesting $69.8 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 2.5 percent.

The Obama administration is proposing flat-funding for major formula grant programs. That would mean Title I grants for districts would get about $14.5 billion, special education state grants would get about $11.6 billion, and the School Improvement Grant program would get $534 million.

Other level-funded programs include money for English-language learners, which was financed at $732 milllion, the same level as last year. And the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which helps fund after-school activities, would be flat-funded at $1.15 billion.

The budget is also seeking to consolidate 38 smaller programs in the department into 11 broader funding streams. That proposal has been in the budget request since 2010, but Congress has always passed on it.

The White House already is providing more details on his higher education requests, to be operated jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the Labor Department.

The president's spending blueprint also includes:

• A $60 billion infusion to help states weather the economic downturn. That would include $30 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs. (Congress just last year already roundly rejected the teachers' jobs proposal.) It also would include $30 billion for school facilities.

• A new, $5 billion competitive-grant program, created through the American Jobs Fund, to encourage states and districts to tackle a host of teacher-quality related policies, including overhauling colleges of education, making sure teacher salaries are tied in part to performance, crafting evaluation systems, and retooling teacher tenure. The fund would encourage districts and unions to work together on those reforms.

• An additional $850 million for his Race to the Top franchise, a portion of which will go to early learning programs, advocates say. Congress provided $550 million for districts through the program this year.

• A total of $150 million for the Investing in Innovation grant program, a portion of which would go to help create the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Education. The Obama administration has been trying over the past year to secure funding for that research program.

And the budget would establish a 25 percent competitive set-aside in the nearly $2.5 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program. The money would go to programs that help reduce shortages in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers, as well as to expanding "high-performing pathways" into the school leadership and teaching fields. Right now, programs such as Teach for America and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are receiving grants under the set-aside, which is now just 1.5 percent of the total program.

A 25 percent spike in the competitive portion of the fund could be a huge bonanza for those groups and similar non-profit organizations. But it could mean less money for states and districts, which tend to use the funds for professional development and class-size reduction. (Some folks have questioned whether those practices are the best use of the funds.)

And, according to advocates, the president wants to see $100 million for the Promise Neighborhood program, up from nearly $60 million last year. The program helps communities create wrap-around services modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone.

The president will officially unveil the overall federal budget request at Northern Virginia Community College this morning, signalling the importance of education in his annual request.

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