For the second straight year, President Bush is asking Congress to cut education spending–this time, by more than $3 billion. In his 2007 budget proposal, released Feb. 6, the president called for the elimination of 42 federal education initiatives–including the $272 million Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, the federal government’s primary source of funding for school technology, as well as the $347 million safe schools program and the $1.2 billion voc-ed program. Bush had advanced the elimination of EETT last year, too, and Congress spared the program in its final 2006 budget–but not before cutting it nearly in half.
Overall, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would receive $54.4 billion next year, down from $57.6 billion in 2006. Administration officials say the decrease is part of a broader campaign to reduce or eliminate funding for programs that have either fulfilled their promise or have failed to live up to expectations. The White House contends the cuts are necessary to rein in federal spending and trim the ballooning federal deficit–which Bush has vowed to cut in half by 2009–while balancing other priorities, including the war in Iraq, hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, and massive tax cuts.
It’s too soon to know if lawmakers will back these proposed cuts to education programs during a congressional election year, but ed-tech advocates who spoke with eSchool News following the release of Bush’s budget figures feared that possibility. Critics say the president’s plan fails to provide the resources necessary to prepare today’s students for the challenges posed by the global economy–a goal Bush himself identified during his State of the Union address to Congress just six days earlier–and might prevent educators from achieving the promise of Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the five-year-old law intended to boost student performance and bring more accountability to the nation’s schools.
“We are deeply disappointed that the administration has chosen, once again, to eliminate federal funding for educational technology,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer for the International Society for Technology in Education. “Understanding and using technology are critical components of all students’ academic careers and, most certainly, barometers of their future employment prospects. … [W]e do not see how eliminating federal educational technology funding advances [the president’s] global competitiveness agenda or helps our students.”
In a telephone briefing with reporters on Feb. 6, Education Secretary Margaret Spelling rebuffed those criticisms, saying the president’s 2007 budget plan is in line with the priorities he singled out for emphasis during his State of the Union address on Jan. 31. At the top of that list is $380 million to support a new American Competitiveness Initiative, an ambitious program intended to boost the quality of math and science instruction in the nation’s schools by training as many as 100,000 full- and part-time teachers and increasing access for students to Advanced Placement and other college-level courses.
The budget also carves out nearly $1.5 billion for the president’s High School Reform Initiative, aimed at expanding the tenets of NCLB into the nation’s secondary schools. Falling in step with requests from the nation’s governors that America’s high schools offer more challenging curricula, the reform initiative also provides funds to increase the level of rigor in secondary-school classrooms.
Bush’s proposal recommends level funding for Title I grant programs–providing $12.7 billion to states to support the implementation of NCLB-related reforms in the nation’s poorest schools, as well as an additional $200 million in first-time funding to help turn around low-performing institutions.
In addition, it sets aside some $55 million for the creation of statewide data systems to improve graduation and dropout data, and to help states comply with federal reporting requirements–an increase of $30 million compared with 2006 levels.
Providing more options for parents was another area of focus in Bush’s proposal. Although states have made improvements to implementing NCLB choice options, ED officials say there still are too few alternatives in many districts for parents seeking a high-quality education for their children.
To counter this problem, the administration is asking Congress for $100 million to fund a new America’s Opportunity Scholarships for Kids program, which would give parents of students enrolled in schools identified as “in need of improvement” more opportunities to transfer their children to a private school or obtain other supplemental services.
Bush’s 2007 proposal also provides for an extra $100 million for state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, bringing funding for that program up to $10.7 billion–capping off a 69-percent increase in funding that began in 2001, administration officials say.
“This budget request soundly targets resources where they are needed most and working best,” said Spellings. “It will enable us to continue to deliver results for all children under No Child Left Behind, and it tackles our vital priority to improve our global competitiveness by targeting achievement in math and science.”
Despite an emphasis on these reforms, critics of the 2007 budget plan say the loss of certain programs will only make it more difficult for educators to improve the quality of education in the nation’s schools.
Bush’s desire to cut EETT funding is nothing new. The president also proposed eliminating the program in his 2006 budget request, only to see it salvaged by Congress during appropriations talks, albeit at a significantly reduced rate. In fact, the program–which provides funding for a wide range of technology initiatives, including access to online courses, the integration of new technology tools into classroom instruction, continual assessment of student progress through computer-based testing, and reporting of student achievement data, among other uses–has seen its funding slashed in each of the last three years, from $696 million in 2004, to $498 million in 2005, to $272 million in 2006.
But given the emphasis placed on global competition during his State of the Union address, educational technology advocates say the president’s decision to cut ed-tech funding seems particularly strange.
“No matter if the world is flat or round, the United States must invest in the education of our children in order to produce global leaders,” said Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “Schools are often the only place that our neediest children get access to technologically advanced learning. This is no time to cut funding for educational technology.”
ED isn’t the only agency likely to see its budget shrink in 2007. All told, the massive, $2.7 trillion spending package calls for the elimination of 141 programs–for an estimated savings of $14.5 billion.
Among the other 42 education programs on the chopping block for 2007 is the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, a $59.9 million effort to increase training and provide incentives for high-quality teachers. Officials say this program is unnecessary because it duplicates the efforts of other training programs, including Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. Also slated for elimination are Star Schools, a $14.9 million grant program that supports the development of distance-education projects to improve the delivery of curriculum; and Ready to Teach, a $10.9 million initiative intended to develop video-based instructional programming for schools.
The largest reductions come through the proposed elimination of two programs: the $1.2 billion Vocational Education State Grant initiative, intended to support state efforts to improve vocational education and job training; and the $346.5 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grants program, intended to help states create safe learning environments for students.