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President's Budget Proposal Would Raise Federal Ed Research Spending

President Obama's fiscal 2016 budget proposal would boost support for education research and dissemination across several agencies, as well as reviving a much-discussed new education research initiative modeled on Defense Department research. 

The President called for $70.7 billion for the U.S. Education Department in fiscal 2016, a $3.6 billion bump up from fiscal 2015. That includes $675.9 million for the Institute of Education Sciences, the education department's research arm, which would at last return the agency to pre-fiscal-2011 spending levels. 

"This request would enable IES to award approximately $60 million in new research and development grants in early learning, elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult education in 2016, including research focused on issues related to students with disabilities," the budget proposal states. That last point is critical, as special education Commissioner Joan McLaughlin took over the National Center on Special Education Research last year with no money for new special education research grants and more than two dozen top-rated proposals unfunded. 

The IES budget proposal shows more support for research programs, including restarting the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort, and providing a $20 million increase to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress trial urban districts study and ensure its tests in history, civics and geography are administered as scheduled in 2018. However, the regional educational laboratories would be flat-funded at $54 million:


Other Agencies

The proposal gives big boosts to science-related agencies in general, with a $7.7 billion fiscal 2016 budget for the National Science Foundation, a 5.2 percent increase from fiscal 2015, and $31.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a 3 percent increase.

The proposal would provide $963 million in fiscal 2016, up from $866 million in fiscal 2015, to NSF's education and human resources directorate, which oversees many science, technology, engineering, and math-related teacher training and enrichment programs in schools; that's up more than $130 million from the directorate's 2014 budget.

It also would provide $292 million in fiscal 2016 to the National Science Foundation's social, behavioral and economics sciences division, a $20 million increase from the fiscal 2015 budget and a significant jump from its $257 million 2014 budget. This may be a vote of confidence for the division, which has come under heavy scrutiny of its peer review process and budget-cutting attempts by GOP members in Congress in the last several years—including a House attempt last fall to slash the directorate's budget by more than 40 percent.

The proposal for the National Institutes of Health includes an increase in fiscal 2016 of $70 million, to $135 million, for the BRAIN initiative, an inter-agency program to develop brain-imaging technology and research on cognition and learning. 

It remains to be seen how warm a reception Congress will give these boosts to research, particularly since IES is still without permanent leaders to advocate for its funding

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