Another year, another budget, another fight. Educators are saying, and congressmen are agreeing, that the federal education budget proposal of $54.4 billion for 2007 is just not good enough.
The Bush administration's fiscal year 2007 budget proposes the largest cut to federal education funding in the 26-year history of the Education Department a $2.1 billion reduction, a 3.8% cut below last year. But Bush is requesting $136 billion over 10 years for the American Competitiveness Initiative, which would emphasize math instruction from early grades and ensure high schools offer more challenging coursework. The math and science initiatives are a $326 million increase over the 2006 amount, a 51 percent increase.
But National Education Association President Reg Weaver calls on Congress to draft a budget that ensures better schools for children.
"Congress has the responsibility to draft a smart budget," Weaver states. "We believe strong, pro-public education lawmakers such as Rep. Ralph Regula and Sen. Arlen Specter will take seriously like NEA the president's call for American competitiveness and restore our nation's education priorities to the final bill."
Specter, chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, states that the proposal will require "substantial modifications by the Congress."
"It is scandalous to provide insufficient funding for our nation's two greatest capital investments: health and education," Specter says.
An office aide for Regula, who did not want to be identified, says that the Ohio representative, also chairman of the education appropriations subcommittee, is mindful of education costs and how to stay competitive, but Bush's proposed budget falls short. In his testimony before the House Budget Committee in February, Regula stated that the Nation's Report Card results, released last fall, revealed the number of fourth graders who learned fundamental math skills increased by 235,000 enough to fill 500 elementary schools.
"Despite the record gains, Mr. Chairman, much work remains," he said. "High quality public education has assumed a much greater significance in the context of our rapidly changing world and the emergence of new technologies. Where oceans and mountains once limited trade and the rapid transmission of ideas, as Tom Friedman tells us in his book The World is Flat, technology has flattened our world and made borders more permeable to products and highly skilled labor."
Now, a well educated workforce is vital for national competitiveness, Regula stated. Since 1980, the number of science and engineering jobs has grown at more than four times the rate of the U.S. labor force, which Bush's proposed budget tries to answer. The proportion of foreign-born students in science and engineering fields is rising dramatically. Global competition for science and engineering talent is intensifying, such that the U.S. may be unable to rely on the international science and engineering labor market to fill needs, Regula says.
Competitiveness and Improvement
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development is also disappointed, saying cutting education funding by more than 3 percent won't meet the goal of increasing competitiveness, "let alone accomplish our ultimate goal of ensuring that our students are knowledgeable, motivated, healthy and engaged."
And Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, says the proposed budget indicates that high school improvement is no longer a priority. "By introducing a slightly revised set of initiatives that he proposed to pay for with the same program cuts that were disregarded by Congress last year, President Bush is offering false hope to millions of American students," the alliance states. "Although the budget requests increased funding for urgently needed initiatives including better data systems to track the progress of students and hold their schools more accurately accountable and more funding for rigorous Advanced Placement classes the president has reduced his call for support for literacy intervention by half from last year's request level."
Demands and Cuts
The National Parent Teacher Association says too many demands are faced with too many cuts. "Too many demands are already being placed on schools to improve student achievement, without sufficient resources to hire qualified teachers, expand compensatory education programs, upgrade technology, implement parent involvement, and repair facilities," the PTA states.
A big cut in the proposed education budget comes with eliminating the Enhancing Education Through Technology program, which allows all children access to technology and the Internet. It also undermines efforts to improve science and math skills, according to the Consortium for School Networking.
EETT gives schools discretion to spend their money on a wide range of technology acquisition, enrichment and integration purposes with at least 25 percent required for professional development.
"Eliminating those funds would mean that technology-specific integrated services and offerings like software to improve student achievement is essentially at risk," says Harry Barfoot of Vantage Learning, the online assessment and instruction company that sees strong student achievement using MY Access writing tool. "There's not a kid in the country not using computers significantly throughout the day."
The proposed budget also includes $100 million for a new program that would allow students at some schools nationwide to receive $4,000 scholarships for private-school tuition. In Florida, after the state Supreme Court this year struck down state vouchers for children at struggling schools, children in public schools could get up to $3,000 for outside tutoring under Bush's education proposal.