Our nation has made incredible strides in education over the past few years. The national graduation rate is at an all-time high and a million more black and Hispanic students are now in college. That’s progress we can all be proud of.
But we still have critical work to do to ensure that all students in this country receive an excellent education that sets them up to succeed in college, careers, and life. Millions of our children start kindergarten far behind their peers because they lack access to high-quality preschool. And the outcomes of our education system continue to reflect unacceptable inequities in the distribution of resources, funding, high-quality teaching, and access to rigorous coursework.
As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a recent speech on the need to reauthorize the nation’s education law—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—we are at a “crossroads” that will determine whether or not we move forward as a country.
President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for education aims to ensure that our education system—and our students—continue on a successful trajectory. The budget provides funds to strengthen educational outcomes for all our nation’s students—especially our most vulnerable populations—and to expand the middle class.
The budget focuses on four key areas: increasing equity and opportunity for all students; expanding high-quality early learning programs; supporting teachers and school leaders; and improving access, affordability and student outcomes in postsecondary education.
The budget includes an overall commitment to using and developing evidence to maximize results for taxpayers and students. By encouraging a greater share of grant funding to be spent on approaches with strong evidence of effectiveness and building better evaluations into grant making, we can keep learning about what works.
Here’s a sampling of what’s included in this year’s budget request for education:
Increasing equity and opportunity for all students
Equality of opportunity is a core American value that helps form our national identity, solidify our democracy, and strengthen our economy. All young people in this country must have the chance to learn and achieve. Unfortunately, there are far too many students, especially in disadvantaged groups, that still lack access to a high-quality education. To close these gaps, the 2016 request provides $2.7 billion, or an almost 12 percent increase, for ESEA programs to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. Key investments include:
- $15.4 billion for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, a $1 billion increase that would provide much-needed support to school districts that have been serving a greater number of students from low-income families in recent years. Funds would be targeted to districts working to implement new college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessments, close achievement gaps, turn around their lowest-performing schools, and use new educator evaluation systems to improve instruction and provide better support to teachers.
- $11.7 billion for the IDEA Grants to States program, an increase of $175 million from the fiscal year 2015 level, to assist states and schools in covering the excess costs of providing special education and related services to individuals with disabilities, ages 3 through 21.
- $773 million for English Language Acquisition grants, an increase of $36 million, to provide increased support to states as they help the significant growing number of English learners in U.S. schools attain English language proficiency and become college and career ready.
- $150 million for Promise Neighborhoods, a $93 million increase, to support new awards to local partnerships to develop and implement comprehensive, neighborhood-based plans for meeting the cradle-to-career educational, health, and social services needs of children and families in high-poverty communities.
- A new Equity and Outcomes Pilot for up to 10 participating Title I local educational agencies would give districts that are equitably distributing funding to their highest-poverty schools greater flexibility to use federal funds for district-level reforms.
- $131 million for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), an increase of $30.7 million for an additional 200 full-time employees to help ensure that the Department’s OCR has the resources to respond to complaints of discrimination and to ensure that Federal grantees follow civil rights laws.
Expanding high-quality early learning programs
Unequal access to education starts early, and too many children, especially those from low-income families, lack the opportunity to benefit from high-quality preschool, which can help to ensure they arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The U.S. has fallen behind many countries in providing access to preschool education, and currently ranks just 25th in the world in its enrollment of 4-year-olds. The President’s 2016 request continues to propose transformational new investments in preschool. It also includes additional proposals designed to strengthen and expand access to high-quality preschool models. Highlights include:
- $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding for Preschool for All to support the implementation of universal high-quality preschool programs that are aligned with elementary and secondary education systems and help ensure that all children arrive in kindergarten ready for success in school and in life.
- $750 million for the Preschool Development Grants program, a $500 million increase to build on the successful launch of this program in 2014 with awards to 18 states. This additional funding would support new awards to nearly every state that submits a high-quality application.
- $504 million for the IDEA Grants for Infants and Families program, a $65 million increase, to assist States in providing high-quality early intervention services to approximately 340,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. The Obama administration is proposing to reserve $15 million of this increase for Pay for Success pilots to expand early screening and early intervention services.
- $403 million for IDEA Preschool Grants, a $50 million increase, to provide special education and related services to children ages 3 through 5. Under the current statute, LEAs may reserve up to 15 percent of the funds they receive under Part B of the IDEA to provide coordinated early intervening services (CEIS) to children in grades kindergarten through 12. The Administration is requesting additional flexibility to allow LEAs to provide CEIS to children ages three through five.
Supporting teachers and school leaders
Teaching is one of the most important and challenging careers, and of all the school-related factors that impact student academic performance, great teachers matter most. Yet teachers today do not have the support, the opportunities, or the autonomy they need to succeed. The 2016 request provides significant support for teachers and leaders who are doing the hard, daily work of teaching our nation’s students. The 2016 request includes:
- $1 billion in 2016, and a total of $5 billion over 5 years, for a new, mandatory Teaching for Tomorrow program that would provide funds to States or districts willing to make meaningful transformations in their approaches to recruiting, training, supporting, retaining, and advancing highly effective teachers throughout their careers. States and school districts would submit high-quality plans including strategies that are based on or build evidence of effectiveness.
- $350 million for Excellent Educators Grants, an expansion of existing efforts to support comprehensive human capital systems that effectively use teacher and principal evaluation, with multiple measures including student learning, to develop, support, reward, and advance effective teachers and principals.
- $138.8 million for a proposed Teacher and Principal Pathways consolidation that would support the creation or expansion of high-quality pathways into the teaching and school leadership professions.
- $200 million for Education Technology State Grants to support models for using technology to help teachers and school leaders improve instruction and personalize learning.
Improving access, affordability, and student outcomes in higher education
Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy, and every American should be able to secure a quality education without accumulating crippling student loan debt. While the total aid available to postsecondary students has grown dramatically over the past six years, helping to ensure that more students are graduating from college than ever before, a significant opportunity gap remains. To keep America’s economy strong and grow the middle class, the fiscal year 2016 budget would help make college affordable and help more Americans attain a college degree or certificate. Key investments include:
- $1.36 billion in 2016 for America’s College Promise, a $60.3 billion investment over 10 years, which creates a new partnership with States to help them eliminate tuition and fees in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least 2 years of college.
- Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by removing data elements pertaining to assets and additional types of income and by relying primarily on information readily available in Federal tax returns, making it more understandable and easier for applicants to complete.
- Reforming and streamlining income-driven repayment by creating a single, simple, and better-targeted plan that reduces complexity and simplifies borrowers’ experience, while helping them manage their debt.
- $200 million for the American Technical Training Fund for career and technical education linked to employers in high-demand fields.
In his speech to reauthorize ESEA, Secretary Duncan said, “Schools need more support—and more money, more resources—than they receive today…Educational opportunity isn’t an option, it’s a civil right, a moral imperative, and the best way we can strengthen our nation and attract and retain great jobs that expand the middle class.”
The 2016 budget request is a bold step in achieving that vision. We owe it to our nation’s learners to invest in their future.
Learn even more information on the 2016 budget.
Patrick Kerr is a member of the Communications Development Division in the Office of Communications and Outreach