Obama Budget Request Would Increase Education Dept. Funding

Published March 21, 2011

President Obama’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year would exempt the U.S. Department of Education from any cuts. Although the White House announced cuts across the federal government, the White House Office of Management and Budget says, “K-12 education receives one of the only significant funding increases in the 2012 budget.”

The House of Representatives in late February countered the president’s proposal with a vote on a continuing budget resolution to cut some $5 billion from the federal education budget.

Adding to Previous Increases
Under the Obama budget, funding for the Education Department would increase to $77.4 billion. Notable increases include $900 million for a new Race to the Top grant program; $1.4 billion in competitive grants for preschool,  K-12, and higher education reforms; and $350 million for a new Early Learning Challenge Fund.

The budget request also increases spending on programs funded under No Child Left Behind by 6.9 percent, to $26.5 billion.

Obama’s budget would also build on decades of increased federal funding for education, representing a 57 percent inflation-adjusted increase in the Department of Education’s budget since 2000.

The increases come in addition to the $100 billion stimulus “bonus” the Education Department received in 2009, and on top of the onetime $10 billion “edujobs” funding the President approved in August 2010.

Trillions ‘Helped Politicians’
Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says the administration’s proposed education budget increases are unlikely to lead to any improvements in academic achievement or other educational outcomes.

Coulson in February testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on the impact of the federal government’s growing role in education. Coulson said the FY 2012 budget would compound the inefficiency of federal education spending.

“I’m sure people will see the president’s budget as the definition of insanity—doing the same thing that’s consistently failed in the past with the hope that it will magically work this time,” Coulson said.

“But that’s not quite right,” he added. “Two trillion dollars in federal spending has certainly failed to do any good for America’s children, but it has helped the careers of the politicians who have spent it, winning them the fierce support of public school employee unions.

“The question for the American people is, how much longer will they allow federal officials to squander their money for political gain?” Coulson said.

Budget Hiked, Scholarships Cut

Robert Enlow, president of the Foundation for Educational Choice in Indiana, pointed to what he described as hypocrisy in the president’s budget.

“The education budget decimates Opportunity Scholarships yet continues to aggrandize the federal government at a time when the power and money should be with the states,” Enlow said.

K-12 education isn’t the only area to receive a significant boost in federal spending. Higher education funding, particularly funding for Pell Grants, will receive a substantial increase if the president’s proposal is enacted.

Matthew Denhart, administrative director for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says the FY 2012 budget increases will not solve the underlying college cost problem.

“President Obama’s FY 2012 budget proposal to a large extent protects funding for higher education financial aid programs, most notably Pell Grants. While the Pell Grant program has helped millions of Americans pursue a higher education, missing is any significant measure of accountability for those funds,” Denhart explained.

“Graduation rate data for Pell Grant recipients does not exist,” Denhart said. “Furthermore, many of America’s public universities admit a shamefully low percentage of Pell Grant students. Harvard and Yale both have a higher proportion of Pell Grant students than does the University of Virginia,” Denhart continued.

Higher Ed Excepted
Denhart says the president’s budget fails to seriously address the growing cost problem in higher education.

“His proposal protects several financial aid programs that have contributed to the sector’s cost explosion by funneling more and more taxpayer to institutions without requiring them to show that the money is being well-spent,” Denhart said.

“Until the underlying incentives facing higher education institutions are addressed, financial aid programs will continue to serve as a costly band-aid,” he added.

Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.