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Obama's Education Budget Is on the Right Track. Too Bad Congress Won't Approve It

Obama's new budget proposes spending where it matters most: PELL grants, teacher training, and science and math education. If only it could pass.

President Obama unveiled his entire fiscal year 2012 budget yesterday at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology in Baltimore, Maryland, and his proposed $77.4 billion in education spending—a 4 percent increase from 2010, the most recent budget enacted—bucks the national trend of defunding education. It's not a perfect budget, but Obama's committing to spending where it matters most: PELL grants, teacher and principal recruitment and training, and science, technology, engineering and math education.

In a post-budget-reveal conference call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged that announcing the budget in a technology school was deliberate and reflects the laser-like focus the Obama Administration has on STEM education. Duncan said a big part of increasing the number of STEM educators nationwide will depend on funding the development of alternative certification programs that will make it easier for qualified professionals to head into the classroom. He also hopes to incentivize excellence in teaching by awarding grants to high performing STEM teachers.

And, according to Duncan, of all the administration's education priorities, there's "nothing more important we can do than to support existing teachers." To that end, one of the most noteworthy aspects of Obama's education proposals is that they invest over $4 billion in K-12 teacher and principal recruitment and professional development. Duncan said he is absolutely committed to placing and supporting teachers in hard-to-staff schools serving low-income children that need them most.

The budget proposal does include $265 million in cuts to career and technology education, but for a good reason. Instead of just continuing to funnel money into programs that might not be completely effective, Duncan says the administration wants "to see better outcomes for children" and ensure "these are really rigorous programs that are preparing kids for the jobs of tomorrow, not the jobs of yesterday." And, despite the cuts, over $1 billion will still be invested in those areas.

Other areas of proposed spending include $28.6 billion for PELL grants and a $300 million increase in the money known as Title I funding for predominantly low-income schools. The budget also includes $900 million for another round of the Race to the Top competition—this time focusing on local districts instead of states.

Unfortunately, approval of the President's proposals by a Republican dominated Congress that's keyed up for opposition at all costs is highly unlikely. The Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. John Kline, (R-MN) responded to Obama's education budget by saying, "Throwing more money at our nation's broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers." The Republican's plan, which will ax billions, could be voted on by the House as early as the end of this week.

What's sadder for our nation's students is that even if a miracle happens and everything in Obama's plan does pass, education cuts are still coming to a district near you. Unlike last year, there's no extra $100 billion federal education stimulus to save cash strapped school districts from the insanely draconian cuts happening at the state and local level. Without that extra help, the outlook for education in 2012 is pretty bleak.

photo (cc) via Flicr user Obama-Biden Transition Project

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