Education, STEM receive boost in federal budget proposal

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) would see a 4.6 percent boost in discretionary funding, to $71.2 billion, under President Obama’s proposed 2014 budget, which focuses on STEM education and emphasizes early education in a proposed partnership with states that would ensure access to high-quality preschools for 4-year-olds.

The budget proposes a “major reorganization effort” that would see ED partner with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies to boost the impact of STEM education investments.

Obama has put forth a recommendation for a $150 million STEM Innovation Networks program, which would create effective strategies to boost and strengthen STEM education, direct $35 million to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, and allocate $80 million to recruit and train STEM teachers for high-need schools.

(Next page: Budget specifics)

Those federal investments would go to four areas: K-12 instruction, undergraduate education, graduate fellowships, and education that occurs outside of the classroom. Reorganization efforts will focus on increasing STEM participation among those from underrepresented groups.

Overall, 90 programs would be consolidated into 11, and $180 million would flow from the consolidated programs in support of those four focus areas, which would be jointly supervised by ED, NSF, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Specifically: ED would develop STEM Innovation Networks to improve STEM education instruction and develop the corps of expert teachers; NSF would focus on boosting STEM undergraduate education and reforming graduate fellowships to reach more students; and the Smithsonian will rework information education activities to align with state standards and relate to classroom lessons and objectives.

High school redesign plays a large role, with the president and lawmakers championing the need to transform high schools into engaging learning centers that prepare students for both college and the workforce. Obama proposed a reward system for schools that partner with colleges, businesses, and nonprofits in pursuit of those goals. The federal Race to the Top competition, one of Obama’s signature education programs, will focus on supporting state efforts to address college costs and completion levels.

“Education must be relevant to employers and engaging for students. The president’s high school redesign proposal will accomplish both by promoting partnerships between school districts and employers to align high school expectations with the demands of college and the workforce,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Equally significant, the proposal highlights the importance of personalization and work-based learning. Giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world will increase student engagement and graduation rates.”

“This change establishes RTT as a fund that promotes system-wide reform efforts and can shift its focus each year to support the most promising and comprehensive solutions to strengthen public education and improve outcomes from preschool through college,” according to the education budget summary.

The preschool partnership with states is funded through increased taxes on tobacco products. The program has two components. The Preschool for All program invests $75 billion over 10 years to provide low- and moderate-income children with universal access to preschool programs. Preschool Development Grants, funded at $750 million, gives grants to states that expand successful preschool programs and build state capacity to implement high-quality preschool programs.

The budget is “built around key themes that span the cradle-to-career continuum,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, noting that the preschool proposal is a “cornerstone” of the budget.

“Studies have shown these children have less access to high-quality early education and are less likely to enter school prepared for success,” he said. Research also shows that the effects of early childhood education stay with children as they reach adulthood, and can result in higher graduation rates, increased employment, and better jobs at higher salaries.

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Laura Ascione

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