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Federal FY15 Budget Analysis

 

Federal FY15 Budget Analysis

The Advocate, March 2014
by Dan Domenech, executive director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

I have good news and bad news regarding the President’s FY15 Budget proposal. Which one do you want to hear first? All right, we’ll start with the good news. First of all the budget adheres to the agreement reached by Congress this past December which restores most, but not all, of the Sequester cuts. The President’s budget actually goes $56 billion past the Bipartisan Budget Act, an increase that is included as a separate proposal and split evenly between defense and non-defense spending, to be funded through a combination of spending cuts and closed tax loopholes.

There is a continued emphasis on funding preschool programs for four-year-olds and that is good, knowing what we know about preschool funding being the investment with the best return in education. Unfortunately this request will run into problems in Congress, as will most of the budget, as there will be partisan squabbling over whether existing preschool programs like Headstart have been successful. Fortunately many states have come to appreciate the value of investing in preschool programs and governors are taking the lead to increase funding for preschool programs in their budgets.

There is also money for STEM program and professional development, for the professional development of teachers in digital learning as additional E-rate dollars roll out, and for safe schools by working to reduce gun violence, make schools safer and increase access to mental health services. There is also a proposed increase for IDEA funding.

So what could be wrong with that scenario? All of the new money—including that for IDEA—is earmarked for competitive grants. With the failure of Congress to reauthorize ESEA and their own hesitation to work with Congress, this administration instead continues to rely on  pushing out its policy directives through the competitive grant process. It began with the billions appropriated for stimulating the economy and it is now dependent on the budget and the waiver process. A brilliant strategy, to be sure, but one that we feel goes against the role that has been relegated to the federal government in education, which is ensuring equal opportunity for all students.

Ironically there is a new Race to the Top component in the budget that focuses on improving the academic performance of students in the nation’s highest poverty schools and supports work to identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps. But those dollars will only go to those districts that “win” the competition whereas the greater numbers of “losing” districts get zilch. It is an inequitable attempt to reach equity.

We want to see federal dollars distributed equitably through the intended formulas, not through competitive grants. We want to see greater support for the nation’s rural schools, not level funding. We want to see ESEA reauthorized. Let your Congressional representatives know.

You can read the full AASA FY15 Budget Analysis here.