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Obama Budget Plans More for Education

Federal education programs would receive a 7-percent boost under the Obama administration’s proposed budget for next year, with Pell Grants and minority-serving institutions among those receiving small to moderate increases despite fiscal constraints.

The president proposed a zero net increase in domestic discretionary spending, leaving education as one of the few winners across federal agencies.

“This budget sends a very clear signal to the country that this president is serious about education,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday. “There are some very innovative proposals in this budget that come from across America. We want to advance reform on a bipartisan basis.”

The maximum Pell Grant would increase by $160, to $5,710 next year. The average grant also would increase by more than $100 to $3,984, the Education Department says. To pay for the increase, the budget adds another $2 billion to Pell to cover the new investments.

Duncan said the administration again is asking Congress to make Pell an entitlement program and plans to provide annual increases plus an additional 1 percent for the foreseeable future.

Minority-serving institutions would realize increases of about 5 percent under the budget. Historically Black colleges and universities would receive $324 million, an increase of $16 million from 2010. The government’s main program for Hispanic-serving institutions would receive $123 million, up $6 million from the current level.

The tribal college program would receive $31.7 million, a $1.5 million increase.

Predominantly Black colleges and graduate programs at HSIs also would receive continued funding under the budget (see chart below). Obama’s plan would fund TRIO college access programs and GEAR UP for college activities at their current levels of $910 million and $323 million, respectively.

In its budget, the president also re-states his commitment to several key priorities already pending before Congress: the American Graduation Initiative, which would provide more than $10 billion for community colleges, and a new college completion drive funded at $3.5 billion. Both provisions would be paid for through the elimination of bank subsidies in the student loan program.

The plan drew predictable reviews from Democratic and Republican leaders.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the plan will put added pressure on the Senate to approve legislation re-directing private-sector loan subsidies to student aid programs. “This should send a clear message to the Senate: Join the House in voting to send over $80 billion in federal taxpayer subsidies to children and students, instead of the banks,” he said.

But Rep. Ron Kline, R-Pa., senior Republican on the House education panel, took a dimmer view. “While I welcome responsible investments in programs that improve educational opportunity, this administration has demonstrated a troubling affinity for new federal mandates and intrusions in exchange for new education dollars.”

Some of the budget’s most far-reaching changes are in K-12 education, where the administration wants to shift more funding from guaranteed formula funding to competitive grants. Among other provisions, it would make permanent the Race to the Top program contained in last year’s economic stimulus bill. The program funds states for innovations designed to increase student achievement and high school graduation rates.

“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said. “Race to the Top taught us that competition and incentives drive reform.”

The administration also would consolidate 38 K-12 programs into 11 initiatives in an effort to promote effectiveness. In one of the broadest consolidations, the department would take 15 existing programs on effective teaching and consolidate them into three with a focus on literacy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects.

One new program is a $210 million Promise Neighborhoods initiative, a competitive grant program modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone. The initiative emphasizes neighborhood transformation by combining school improvement with comprehensive social services.

Obama also identified several programs for termination, including the Leveraging Educational Assistance Program (LEAP), a $64 million program that provides incentives for states to offer their own need-based student aid. The department said that the program had accomplished its goal and that “federal incentives for such aid are no longer required.”

But students are concerned about this move, says Gregory Cendana, president of the United States Student Association. Student groups will meet in Washington, D.C., in March and plan to focus their advocacy efforts on protecting this program as well as increasing support for TRIO and GEAR UP, the association said.

Nonetheless, the student group supported other elements of the president’s budget. The overall funding increases “are indicative of shifting federal priorities that recognize the benefits of college investments,” Cendana said.

Funding for Minority-Serving Institutions (in millions)




2011 Request

Tribal colleges




Strengthening HBCUs




HBCU graduate institutions




Master’s programs at HBCUs and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs)




Strengthening PBIs




Strengthening Asian American institutions




Strengthening Hispanic-serving institutions




Postgraduate opportunities for Hispanic Americans




Source: U.S. Education Department

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