President Bush proposed shrinking federal spending on education by more $3 billion in his new budget proposal released Feb. 6, but he also wants to launch new initiatives to strengthen math and science achievement and reform America's high schools.
The largest source of federal education aid to states, the $12.7 billion Title I program for low-income students, would receive no new funding under the president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007, which begins Oct. 1. Title I accounts for about half of federal spending to implement the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which aims to close achievement gaps and get all students to read and do math at grade level by 2014.
Bush proposed a 4.6 percent increase — about $1 billion — for new NCLB programs, including $200 million in school improvement grants to help states meet NCLB goals. The new money also would fund initiatives aimed at boosting America's international competitiveness in math and science and extending NCLB requirements into high school.
Last week Bush announced in his State of the Union address his intentions to focus on math and science achievement by creating the "American Competitiveness Initiative." The initiative includes $250 million for elementary school programs intended to boost math achievement and $90 million to train 70,000 additional teachers for math, science and foreign language "advanced placement," or AP, courses that help high school students qualify for college credits.
"This budget request 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," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a telephone news conference.
The overall federal education budget would be cut by $3.1 billion, or 5.5 percent from 2006 levels. Much of the cuts would come from scrapping 42 education programs totaling $3.5 billion, including programs for the arts, state grants for vocational education, Perkins loans for low-income college students and the Even Start literacy program for poor families. However, Congress rejected cutting most of these programs when Bush requested their elimination last year. Congress cut only five of the 48 programs Bush slated for elimination in last year's budget proposal.
Bush also asked for $100 million to offer expanded tutoring and vouchers to attend private schools for students in chronically failing schools, an iniative that Congress rejected in 2001. Congress also rejected a similar proposal by Bush last year to extend NCLB testing requirements into high school last year.
"I'm frustrated to see education proposals that the Senate rejected 99-0 last year," said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D), president of Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based research group that advocates tougher education standards.
The gap between what states are expected to achieve under NCLB and what the federal government is willing to fund would increase if Congress were to approve Bush's budget, said Jack Jennings, president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy (CEP) in Washington D.C., which has done extensive studies on NCLB. In a recent analysis
of Title I allocations, CEP found that the growing number of school districts that are failing under NCLB has resulted in less Title I money getting to the nation's neediest school districts.
"At a time when expectations for states and school districts are at their highest under the No Child Left Behind Act, the President's investment in education is headed in the opposite direction," Jennings contended.