Education–and especially higher education for all students–is a critical area of focus in President Obama’s proposed budget for next year, which he outlined for Congress in a 146-page plan on Feb. 26.

The full text and figures will be released in April, but a preliminary look at the budget outline reveals $500 million in education spending increases from 2009 to 2010, for a total of $46.7 billion in fiscal year 2010 discretionary grant spending through the federal Education Department.

Those figures don’t include an additional $81.1 billion in education funding provided by the Recovery Act (the stimulus package) for FY 09 and FY10, and they don’t include another $15.6 billion in Pell Grants.

"In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity–it is a prerequisite," Obama said.

The spending proposal follows through on Obama’s comments to Congress Feb. 24, when he said he wants every child to be able to pursue some form of higher education. (See "Obama to Congress: Education is key.")

Although three-quarters of the fastest-growing jobs require applicants to have some level of post-secondary education, Obama said, only slightly more than half of U.S. citizens currently possess that level of education.

"This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow," he said. "That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education–from the day they are born to the day they begin a career."

Saying that assessments must accurately measure student ability, the budget outline indicates that the federal government will help states "increase the rigor of their standards so they prepare students for success in college and a career. … Such reforms will lay the groundwork for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act."

Teacher and principal preparation programs, including alternative certification programs, residency programs, and programs in schools of education, also would receive funding.

The 2010 budget would stabilize postsecondary student loan programs and save taxpayers $4 billion annually by originating all new loans in the direct lending program, the administration said.

Translation: Obama is seeking an end to government-guaranteed loans, an idea sure to upset the nation’s lenders. Instead, the government would increase its own direct lending to students in an effort to protect them from turmoil in financial markets.

The administration also hopes to simplify the student aid application process, aiming not only to enroll more students in college, but also to support students and help them complete school. The 2010 request includes a new, five-year $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund that would support innovative state efforts to improve college completion rates for low-income students.

"I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training," Obama said. 

"This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option."

Obama’s plan would tie the Pell Grant program to inflation for the first time since the grants began in 1973. It would grow by more than 75 percent over the next decade.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that the budget overview includes a $500 million grant program for a new federal-state-local partnership to improve retention and graduation rates, particularly for low-income college students. Funds would support research into increasing college completion.

"Currently, our young people face too many financial and other hurdles to obtaining a college education," Duncan said. "With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the proposals announced today, we are taking several major steps to clear those hurdles."

He added: "By ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible for all our young people, we will make certain that our nation is prepared to compete in an information-age economy."

Some education groups applauded Obama’s commitment to higher education, and his emphasis on the connection between higher education and success in a global economy.

"No president in modern times has used an address to a joint session of Congress to make such a clear case for higher education’s role in providing the solutions America needs to compete in the world economy," Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said in a Feb. 25 statement.

"If America is to compete economically–if we are to pull ourselves out of this recession–we must have a competitive work force and a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We cannot afford to lose a single citizen, so important is this new investment in human capital."

Detailed funding figures aren’t likely to be known until the budget is released in April, but many ed-tech advocates said that if the stimulus package is any indication, technology programs might receive a boost as well.

The federal budget as a whole is expected to top $3 trillion. It offsets some of the spending increases in areas such as health care and education by raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Link:

2010 budget outline, via CNN