Obama to seek up to $4B in new education spending

Thursday, January 28, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday his administration will work with Congress to expand school improvements across the country, saying the success of children cannot depend on where they live.

As he prepares to ask Congress for billions of dollars in new spending for education, Obama said the nation's students need to be inspired to succeed in math and science, and that failing schools need to be turned around.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama also called on Congress to finish work on a measure to revitalize community colleges. And he called for a $10,000 tax credit to families for four years of college, and an increase in Pell Grants.

"This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools," he said. "The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.

"In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education."

He also said college students should only have to devote 10 percent of their post-college income to repaying student loans.

Obama will ask Congress to boost federal spending on education by as much as $4 billion in the coming 2011 budget year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said earlier in the day.

Of the total, $3 billion is slated for elementary and secondary education programs ranging from teacher quality to student safety.

The sum also includes $1.35 billion for Obama's "Race to the Top" competitive grant program, which was created last year using $4.35 billion from the economic stimulus bill. States must compete for a share of the money and, for some, that means changing education laws and striking deals with teacher unions to bring their systems in line with Obama's vision of education reform.

Obama sees linking student test scores to teacher performance and creating charter schools as solutions to the problems plaguing public education. Charter schools are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards.

The first round of Race to the Top awards are expected to be announced in April.

With the additional $1.35 billion, states not awarded money in the first round would get another chance to compete. Local school districts also would be allowed to apply.

The rest of the money for K-12 education would become available after Congress overhauls the No Child Left Behind education law, which is due for a rewrite. Duncan said he hopes that process will be completed by August.

The request for $4 billion would increase federal education spending by about 6 percent.

The Education Department also wants to eliminate six programs, deeming them duplicative or ineffective. The agency would consolidate 38 other programs into 11 programs to eliminate bureaucracy and red tape.

Duncan said Obama's decision to boost education spending, at the same time he is expected to call for a freeze on other federal spending, shows how important the issue is to the president.

"Given how tough the economy is now, having a 6 percent increase at this point is extraordinary," Duncan said. "You're not seeing that happen anyplace else."

Obama is expected to send his budget proposal to Capitol Hill next Tuesday.

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