President Barack Obama will ask Congress for $1.35 billion in his 2011 budget proposal to extend an education grant program for states, although the Education Department remains months away from announcing its first round of awards, senior administration officials said.
Obama was outlining the budget proposal Tuesday at a Fairfax County, Va., elementary school.
The $787 billion economic stimulus program Obama signed into law soon after taking office included $4.3 billion in competitive grants for states, nicknamed the "Race to the Top" fund. States must amend education laws and policies to compete for a share of the money.
More than 30 states were expected to apply by Tuesday’s deadline. The first of two rounds of award announcements are expected in April.
Even before that, however, Obama will ask lawmakers for another $1.35 billion so that states not chosen in either award round will have a chance to compete for money, according to the officials, who spoke anonymously Monday because the president had not announced his plans.
The president also wants to use some of the $1.35 billion for a similar competitive grant program among school districts.
With the grant programs, Obama is trying to make federal education spending more of a competitive endeavor to encourage states and school districts to do better, rather than a solely formula-driven effort in which states and districts look forward to receiving a certain amount of money each school year, regardless of how good a job they do educating students.
To that end, Obama sees using student test scores to judge teacher performance and the creation of charter schools, which are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.
National teachers’ unions disagree. They argue that student achievement amounts to much more than a score on a standardized test and that it would be a mistake to rely heavily on charter schools.
The "Race to the Top" fund – and the opportunity to compete for the billions of dollars it holds – was designed to encourage states to rework their education systems and bring them more in line with Obama’s vision. Education is largely a state and local responsibility.
So far, more than a dozen states have changed laws or policies to link data on student achievement to the performance by teachers and principals, or pave the way for opening more charter schools.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, called the administration’s plans "exciting."
Obama is expected to send Congress his 2011 budget proposal sometime next month.