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A Closer Look at the President’s Proposed K-12 Education Program Consolidations

Published:  February 4, 2010

In his fiscal year 2011 budget request released on Monday, President Obama proposed some major changes to programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The proposal would take 38 existing K-12 programs, many with very narrow focuses, and combine them into nine new programs. The new programs would direct more funding to states and local education agencies (LEAs) through competitive grants than the current structure, which operates mostly through formula grants. The Obama Administration believes this will give school districts greater flexibility in how they use the funds and make them more accountable for student achievement. But moving to competitive grants adds uncertainty and may create a number of unintended consequences.

The 38 existing programs would be consolidated into nine different programs under five headings: Excellent Instructional Teams, Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education, Expanding Educational Options, College Pathways and Accelerated Learning, and Supporting Student Success. Each of these reflects the priorities of the Obama Administration for education.

The president’s 2011 budget request includes $5.9 billion for the new programs, while the combined 2010 funding for the programs slated for consolidation is $5.3 billion, a difference of $568 million. A table of the funding levels for the existing programs to be consolidated and the proposed programs that would replace them can be downloaded here.

Excellent Instructional Teams
The president’s budget proposal would create three programs under the Excellent Instructional Teams umbrella: Effective Teachers and Leaders; Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund; and Teacher and Leader Pathways. Nine programs funded under current law would be folded into these new consolidated programs.

Two of the programs that would be folded into this area are the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. Both of these programs aim to improve the quality of teachers in schools around the country. TIF uses competitive grants to help states, LEAs, and partnerships to develop and implement performance-based compensation systems for teachers and administrators in high-need areas. Improving Teacher Quality State Grants are formula driven grants that states and school districts can use to improve teacher effectiveness. Much of this money is used to help teachers pay for the education they need to become “highly qualified.”

The administration feels that a broader program enveloping all of the federal investments in improving teaching and learning would eliminate overlap and inefficiencies in existing programs. It is clear that programs like TIF and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants share similar goals; the major difference between them is the way money is distributed (competitive vs. formula grants). The president and his advisers believe that the goal of improving the quality of teachers and administrators, especially in high need subjects and schools, can be better carried out through this new structure where investments will be focused on what is found to work best, rather than what the law mandates.

In addition to TIF and Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, existing programs that would be folded into the Excellent Instructional Teams proposal include: Ready to Teach, Advanced Credentialing, Transition to Teaching, Teacher Quality Enhancement, Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, Teach for America, and School Leadership.

Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education
The Obama Administration proposes consolidating 15 existing programs under Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education. This proposal aims to improve the quality and rigor of academic standards and instruction in all schools in various subject areas. Federal efforts will fall into three competitive grant programs: Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy; Effective Teaching and Learning: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); and Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.

Programs that would be consolidated under Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education include: Striving Readers, Even Start, Literacy through School Libraries, National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, Ready-to-Learn Television, Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Excellence in Economic Education, Teaching American History, Arts in Education, Foreign Language Assistance, Academies for American History and Civics, Close-Up Fellowships, Civic Education, and Educational Technology State Grants.

Expanding Educational Options
Under President Obama’s consolidation proposal, five existing programs would be wrapped into the Expanding Educational Options program. This program would aim to increase the number of high-quality educational options available to students in low-performing schools. It would invest in creating and expanding effective charter schools and other effective and accountable schools, and would implement comprehensive school choice programs.

The president’s proposal would consolidate five programs into the Expanding Educational Options program: Charter Schools Grants, Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities, Voluntary Public School Choice, Parental Assistance Information Centers, and Smaller Learning Communities.

College Pathways and Accelerated Learning
The College Pathways and Accelerated Learning program represents the Obama Administration’s investment in bringing high quality educational opportunities to students in all schools. It would provide accelerated courses and instruction in schools that enroll large concentrations of students from low-income families. This program would consolidate three existing programs: High School Graduation Initiative, Advanced Placement, and Javits Gifted and Talented.

Supporting Student Success
Finally, the Obama Administration’s proposal would create the Supporting Student Success program. This proposal centers around creating learning environments that are safe and drug-free. This would consolidate six existing programs into one new program, Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students. Funding for the existing Promise Neighborhoods and 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs would also fall under Supporting Student Services, but these existing programs would continue to be funded under their current names and purposes.

Existing programs that would be consolidated are: Safe and Drug Free Schools National Program Activities, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, Physical Education, Foundations for Learning, Mental Health Integration in Schools, and Alcohol Abuse Reduction.

Conclusion
Eliminating overlapping or inefficient programs in favor of a streamlined approach to federal funding may achieve the Obama Administration’s goals – more accountability for federal money going to states and school districts, greater flexibility at the state and school district level, and more use of evidence in decision making.

But the proposal raises several interesting questions which Ed Money Watch will be monitoring: Without dedicated funding streams that require states and school districts to make certain investments, will some priorities embodied in the old programs fall by the wayside? Will states and school districts with limited administrative capacity be able to pull together applications for grants? Will the uncertainty of competitive grants make it impossible for states and school districts to plan ahead and spend money wisely?

Of course, all of these changes are just the president’s request; they need congressional action to become law. At Ed Money Watch, we’re curious to see if these proposed changes make it into law. We’ll be watching closely as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which optimistic forecasters believe could happen this year. Check back with us for updates as the process continues.

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