Obama to Promote More Education Spending in State of the Union Speech

President Obama will propose a major increase in funding for elementary and secondary education for the coming year in Wednesday’s State of the Union address, one of the few areas that would grow in an otherwise austere federal budget, officials said.

The proposal to raise federal education spending by as much as $4 billion in the next fiscal year was described by administration officials Tuesday night as the start of an effort to revamp the No Child Left Behind law enacted under President George W. Bush. Obama will highlight his school reform agenda Wednesday in the address.

The funding would include a $1.35 billion increase in Obama’s "Race to the Top" competitive grants for school reform. It would also set aside $1 billion to finance an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the budget proposal before its release next week.

Administration officials said they could not provide a direct comparison to current elementary and secondary education spending levels for No Child Left Behind, but they said federal education spending would rise overall by 6.2 percent.

The 2002 law mandated a huge expansion of standardized testing to measure progress toward closing student achievement gaps — and imposed sanctions on schools that fall short. That concept has become ingrained in public education, but many experts say the law is overly punitive and ripe for revision.

White House and Education Department officials last week convened key Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to begin developing a road map for revising the law. "It was a very good meeting," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), one of the participants. "It couldn’t have been more bipartisan."

The $1 billion fund would be held out as a carrot for a successful legislative conclusion. One top aide to the president described it as an "incentive necessary to implement the kinds of reforms that we believe are necessary."

Obama has encouraged efforts by states to raise school standards and improve testing. Aides said that in his State of the Union speech, the president will make a forceful call for broad reforms of the way school performance is measured and rewarded.

Obama is expected to propose the consolidation of federal education programs. The budget he submits next week will collapse 38 K-12 programs into 11 and eliminate six programs, senior White House aides said.

In higher education, Obama will urge the passage of legislation that would change student lending, eliminating a program that relies on private banks to make federally guaranteed loans. Instead, the government would become the direct lender for all federal student loans.

That shift, according to congressional budget analysts, would net the government close to $80 billion over 10 years — a conclusion sharply disputed by the lending industry. The House passed such legislation in September, but it has been delayed in the Senate.

Obama’s budget will propose using savings from the student loan overhaul to expand higher-education grants and community college funding, among other programs.

Senior White House aides said the increase in education funding fits into a broader effort by the administration to focus scarce resources on the nation’s long-term economic health.

Obama has signaled that he wants tougher academic standards but more flexibility for schools to reach them. His administration has pushed for innovations such as public charter schools, teacher performance pay and stronger data systems to track student growth from pre-kindergarten all the way to college.

To jump-start his agenda, the stimulus enacted last year funneled nearly $100 billion into education — an unprecedented increase meant to help prevent layoffs and spur reform.

THE WASHINGTON POST

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