President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 calls for sweeping changes to programs within the U.S. Department of Education (ED), including a restructuring of federal education technology grants.
Under Obama’s budget plan, the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program—the largest single source of federal funding for school technology hardware, software, and professional development—would be consolidated along with several other grant programs into a new initiative called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education.
This new initiative would focus on improving teaching and learning within three areas: Literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and Well-Rounded Education (arts, foreign languages, civics and government, history, geography, economics, financial literacy, and other subjects).
According to ED officials, the new initiative would “include a focus on integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning” throughout all three areas.
Most of the money would be awarded through competitive grants to state and local education agencies, but ED also would set aside money for national activities, such as grants to support research and technical assistance, grants to “strengthen the use of technology in the core academic subjects”; and a competitive grant program to encourage the development of “high-quality digital educational content for children.”
The three components of the Effective Teaching and Learning initiative would receive a combined $1.015 billion in FY11 funding under the president’s proposal, an increase of $95 million over what the programs that make up this new initiative received in FY10. But it’s unclear from the plan how much of this $1.015 billion would be spent on education technology in particular.
A reaction to Obama’s proposed budget, posted on the Software and Information Industry Association’s web site, said the plan “would dramatically remake the federal education landscape in the name of flexibility. … Among the changes would be the ‘consolidation’ of the [EETT] program, perhaps ending some 15-plus years of targeted investment in educational innovation and improvement through technology. … While SIIA has been [assured] of the goal to integrate technology throughout, those details to date are not available.”
The statement noted: “Flexibility in using federal funds to meet educational needs through technology is an important principle. … [But this] flexibility is most often taken advantage of by those with the vision, capacity, and existing success. The questions therefore are: What federal leadership teeth will be given to the integration policies to drive technology-based practices that would not otherwise happen? And, what will happen to those many communities and teachers without the vision, capacity, and resources, if targeted investment is no longer provided?”
EETT received $269.9 million in FY09 and $100 million in FY10, although the program received an addition $650 million spread across both funding years as part of the economic stimulus package.
A Jan. 11 letter from several ed-tech advocacy groups, including the Consortium for School Networking, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and the International Society for Technology in Education, urged Obama to boost EETT funding.
“We greatly appreciate your recognition of the program’s importance to education reform, including your support and enactment of $650 million for EETT in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” the letter stated. “However, coupled with a disappointing FY10 investment of only $100 million, the progress being gained through national, state, and local leadership in innovation through technology is at risk of being lost. We cannot afford to lose education reform momentum and urge you to fund EETT at a minimum of $500 million in your FY11 budget.”
Both Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said repeatedly that technology is an integral part of student and school success.
Using technology to improve student outcomes is a key priority in both the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (I3) competitive grant programs introduced by ED last year.
Both programs were created with funding from the stimulus package, and both would receive additional funding in FY11 to sustain their efforts under Obama’s budget proposal.
The president has proposed an additional $1.35 billion for the Race to the Top fund, which rewards states for their efforts to adopt the administration’s priorities for education reform, which include reducing the high school dropout rate, turning around failing schools, improving teacher quality, and using data to improve instruction. The stimulus package directed $4.35 billion to this fund in FY10.
The I3 program, which funds the development or scaling up of promising educational practices, would receive $500 million in funding under the president’s request; it received $650 million in the stimulus package.
Overall, ED would see a 7.5-percent spending increase under Obama’s budget proposal, which asks for $49.7 billion in education funding. That would be a $3.5 billion increase from FY10.
The proposal reflects the president’s vision for how he would like to see No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the nation’s federal education law, reshaped. Reauthorization of NCLB is a few years overdue, and the administration is pushing to have Congress rewrite the law this year.
Included in Obama’s budget plan is a $3 billion increase in competitive funding. That figure includes $1.35 billion to continue Race to the Top, $500 million for the I3 Fund, additional money for school turnarounds, charter schools, school safety, and programs focused on preparing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers.
“Race to the Top taught us that competition and incentives drive reform,” said Duncan. “So even as we continue funding important formula programs like Title I and IDEA, we are adding money to competitive programs that are changing the landscape of our education system.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would receive a $250 million boost, for a total of $11.75 billion.
A new program included in the FY11 budget proposal is Promise Neighborhoods, a $200 million competitive grant program modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone that combines social services with school improvements in an effort to transform whole neighborhoods.
School Improvement Grants would see a $354 million spending boost, the Teacher Incentive Fund would get an additional $400 million, and charter schools would get an additional $50 million over FY10 appropriations.
Duncan said the president’s budget “sends a very clear signal to the country that this president is serious about education.”
The budget plan also notes that the administration will propose to replace the accountability system established in NCLB with a new system built around the goal of helping all students graduate from high school college- and career-ready.
Duncan said he has heard complaints from educators and school leaders about current accountability systems and will work to ensure that the revised law is “smart, fair, and useful for educators.”
When a revised education law is enacted, the president will send Congress a budget amendment that requests an additional $1 billion for education programs, Duncan said. The money would provide additional resources for low-income students, including funding to reward schools producing gains in student achievement, funding to improve the quality of assessments, and additional funding for expanded learning time.
“Our role here is to provide a common definition of success, not a prescription for success,” Duncan said in characterizing the administration’s federal role in education.
A total of $173 billion is requested for higher education, including loans, grants, and work-study programs—enough to help three out of five college students in the U.S., Duncan said.
The 2011 budget plan also assumes savings from a proposal to end federal student loan subsidies to banks and shift billions in savings into higher education and early childhood programs. That proposal, which passed the House in September and awaits Senate approval, has struck a nerve with private lenders, however.
In addition to ED’s $49.7 billion budget, $34.9 billion would go to Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college. The maximum Pell Grant amount would increase by $170, to $5,710, and would rise automatically by rate of inflation plus 1 percentage point annually over the next decade.
College graduation rates have been a focus for Obama and his administration, and the president has said he wants the nation’s college graduation rates to top the world by 2020.
The budget also would provide $9.3 billion for competitive grants to states over the next 10 years to improve the quality of early learning programs and prepare students for success in kindergarten.
“The president has set a goal that America once again will lead the world in college completion,” Duncan said. “To do that by the end of the decade, we need to improve the education at every level, from birth through the end of college. This budget puts us on a path toward success and meeting that goal.”
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