Though states are strapped for cash, education would see a slight bump in federal funding if Obama's budget is approved.

Despite tough economic times, President Obama’s $3.73 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 would increase education spending by 4.3 percent in an effort to help students compete on a global level and boost citizens’ college and workforce readiness.

The administration’s 2012 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is $48.8 billion, an increase of $2 billion, over the 2011 budget, which was not approved by Congress and is being funded through continuing resolutions.

The budget proposal requests the following funding levels:

  • $350 million for an Early Learning Challenge Fund to boost early-learning programs
  • $4.3 billion for teacher and principal preparation programs, including formula grants to states, alternative certification, minority teacher recruiting programs, and scholarships for high-achieving students to work in high-need schools
  • $300 million for the Investing in Innovation program
  • A $200 million increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • A $300 million increase for Title I
  • $900 million for the Race to the Top program
  • $150 million for the Promise Neighborhoods program, which gives children and families comprehensive support services to increase children’s chances for academic success

The Race to the Top (RTTT) program, which previously funded projects at the state level, will focus on the district level in the new fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.

The program would include a funding component for rural schools, but a dollar amount has not yet been specified.

“Obviously we’re seeing extraordinary reform at the state level,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We would love to see that kind of innovation continue at the district level.”

Duncan said that a $900 million funding level would permit only one or two winners if RTTT focused on states, but it could reach more innovative programs and ideas at the district level. The funding boost also would extend the program to districts that supported RTTT but were located within states that opted not to apply for a share of the funding last year.

“We need to invest in education … in a responsible way that keeps our country on a path to financial stability,” Duncan said during a conference call with reporters. “We must cut where we can to invest where we must.”

“We are pleased that the budget proposes a modest increase for IDEA. It also seeks to broaden eligibility for Race to the Top grants by driving resources directly to local school districts instead of states,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “In these difficult times, when districts are wrestling with the prospect of cutting art, music, and vital services for kids, we must be careful to maintain those priorities. Funding determined by competition sometimes allows those districts who can most afford it to have an edge, and that is troubling when all students—particularly disadvantaged children—need help.”

Duncan said ED will strive to recruit future teachers into hard-to-serve schools, along with funding recruitment and development of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers.

Obama says his budget proposal reflects a need to start reducing deficits, but not at the expense of programs he says deserves more money.

Appearing in Maryland, Obama declared: “We can’t sacrifice our future.” He said the country has a responsibility to commit money to areas that will help it compete against other nations, and he emphasized education as one such area.

The president spoke at Parkville Middle School near Baltimore, an institution that focuses on STEM.

Duncan noted that STEM teacher training programs are “critically important” to the president.

“We’ve had a shortage of STEM teachers in this country for a couple decades now,” Duncan said, adding that it is important that children of all ages, and not just those in high school, receive instruction from someone who is passionate about STEM.

“We think if we can do this well, the benefits for our children, and ultimately for our country and our country’s economy, are huge,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that the president unveiled his budget at a STEM middle school in Baltimore.”

Obama also requested $90 billion for the creation of a new educational technology agency called Advanced Research Projects Agency – Education, which would “support research on breakthrough technologies to enhance learning.”

The president pledged to work with lawmakers of both parties to come up with a budget that shows better fiscal discipline.

The proposed budget comes at a time when the No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization. Democrats and Republicans alike have voiced a desire to revamp the law.

The president’s budget proposal will face stiff opposition from Republicans who now control the House of Representatives and who have pledged to reduce federal spending on all domestic programs, including education.

A Republican bill introduced on Feb. 11 proposes extensive cuts to education for the remaining fiscal year.