During his campaign for re-election, President Barack Obama’s education agenda for the next four years included closing the achievement gap and boosting college graduation rates to top other countries. However, funding issues may push those agenda items to the back burner.
According to the Washington Post, President Obama will have to “tie up loose ends” before delivering on those promises. The first is sequestration, government-wide spending cuts that are slated to cut 8.2% of the Education Department’s programs. Congress has until the end of the year to establish a plan to avoid such cuts, which include:
- $1.3 billion cut from programs to reduce educational inequalities
- More than $1 billion cut from special education, which is already underfunded
- Impact Aid, which helps school districts when they lose funding due to tax-exempt federal property, will be cut immediately
After education spending is settled, next steps are unclear. The Education Department hasn’t commented on an agenda for the next four years. However, those watching the administration’s signals closely believe that the focus will be on early childhood education and higher education.
- Pre-kindergarten was a focus in President Obama’s first term. He expanded Race to the Top to include pre-k, and strengthened Head Start’s accountability.
- As college costs spiral out of control, Congress took control of student aid in 2010. Banks were cut out of the student loan process, and the federal government began administering loans directly.
- As of July 1, student loan interest rates are set to double. Pell Grants, which are the main source of aid for low-income students, may suffer a crisis similar to Medicare and Social Security as more people take part.
As for K-12 education, it is even more likely that there will be a struggle between Congress and Obama. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is more than a decade overdue for reauthorization. Waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act (President Bush’s iteration of the act) have been granted, which provide school districts flexibility with performance targets. But such grants are only temporary fixes. In addition, lawmakers want to reclaim the Race to the Top competition. Grants were awarded to help states change laws and raise standards. However, as stimulus funds diminished, the size of the program shrunk dramatically.
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