NPR logo Budget Analysis By Issue: Education

Budget Analysis By Issue: Education

President Obama is asking for $50.7 billion in discretionary funding for education, a hefty $4.5 billion increase over this year. He says the new money will not add to the deficit because it will be offset by cuts, such as restructuring of the student loan program and elimination of hundreds of education projects.

Elementary and Secondary Education:
The two biggest programs for elementary and secondary schools would grow — to $14.5 billion for Title 1, which serves low-income students, and $11.8 billion for special education, which serves 7 million students with learning disabilities. Much of the Title 1 money is earmarked for early intervention, remedial education and closing the achievement gap. The president also wants to add $1.35 billion to the Race to the Top fund. This program is already offering more than $4 billion in competitive grants, favoring schools that pursue specific goals, such as developing tougher tests or creating more charter schools. So far, 40 states are competing for this money. Some of these increases are contingent on congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind since it was refashioned by the Bush administration.

Analysis: What's new here in K-12 education is the Obama administration's focus on teachers. In tackling teacher quality, federal education funding is shifting dramatically from "school accountability" to "teacher accountability." Billions of dollars in the president's budget revolve in some away around supporting good teachers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says to improve student achievement, there's no substitute for an effective teacher — not class size, technology, higher standards or better tests. Duncan argues that unless the United States improves teacher training and raises teacher quality, little will change in the classroom. The administration also wants to tie teacher evaluation and compensation to student performance and test scores.

Higher Education:
Two of the Education Department's largest programs are federally subsidized loans and Pell Grants for college students. Pell Grants, which target low-income students, would get $34.9 billion in 2011, raising the maximum award from $5,500 to $5,710. About 8.7 million college students receive these grants. The administration wants to make funding for Pell Grants mandatory beginning in fiscal 2011. Obama also wants to link future increases to the inflation rate plus 1 percent. Under that formula, the maximum Pell Grant would increase to $6,900 by 2019.

Congress passed a slightly different version of the college loan plan In July 2009. Many lawmakers like the idea because of growing concern that middle-class parents and students are struggling to make loan payments and more and more are defaulting. Two-thirds of four-year college graduates leave school with loan debt averaging $23,000.