Senate Democrats

President Bush’s Budget Proposal Shortchanges Education Programs

President Bush’s final budget proposal continues down the same irresponsible path he started on seven years ago, and demonstrates his misplaced priorities.  Parents want their children to enter school ready to learn and to excel in the classroom and are worried about the rising cost of a college education.  But the President’s budget proposal fails to fund essential education priorities adequately.  Modest increases in discretionary funding for some programs are offset by cuts to other vital programs and the proposed elimination of 48 other valuable education programs.  The President’s budget would freeze Education Department discretionary funding at $59.2 billion.  When adjusted for inflation, this amount is $826 million less than the 2008 funding level. Instead of adequately investing in education, the President is asking students, parents, and teachers to do more with less.

Fails to address the rising costs of college.  In spite of the dramatically rising costs of college, the President’s budget fails to address adequately this serious problem.  While the President’s budget does contain enough discretionary funds to support a maximum Pell Grant award of $4,800 for the 2009-2010 school year – the level envisioned by Congress last year in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act – the budget deeply cuts other programs, hurting students.  For example, the President proposes to eliminate Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and Leveraging Education Assistance Partnerships (LEAP), which help lower-income students afford a college education.

In addition to raising the maximum Pell Grant, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act made student debt more manageable by capping monthly federal student loan payments, and forgiving student loan debt for those who commit to public service.  Only a few months after President Bush signed this landmark legislation into law, his budget proposes to limit the benefits it provides to student borrowers.  The Bush budget cuts $457 million over five years in interest rate subsidies for individuals in low-paying jobs, and dramatically reduces eligibility for the new loan forgiveness program, costing student borrowers $1.5 billion over five years.  Finally, the budget once again recalls capital for the Perkins Loan revolving program, cutting benefits to low-income students by $4.2 billion. 

Underfunds No Child Left Behind Act and Title I.  The President trumpets the importance of No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), but again fails to provide adequate resources even as local school districts must ensure that more children meet increasingly rigorous academic standards and that all teachers are highly-qualified.  The President’s budget increases NCLB funding by only $125 million over the 2008 funding level.  This amount is $179 million less than the 2008 funding level, adjusted for inflation.  The budget reflects a $406 million increase for state grants under Title I, the main program serving children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  But these new funds are targeted toward new requirements for high schools, rather than helping schools meet the goals that have already been established.  Moreover, since the budget cuts funding for career and technical education programs, the Administration gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

Takes a step back on special education.  The President’s budget proposes that, for the fourth year in a row, the federal government provide a smaller share of states’ total costs for special education.  Although funding for the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) Part B State Grants would increase by $337 million, to a total of $11.3 billion, this amount would provide just 17 percent of the national average per-pupil expenditure for educating students with disabilities — less than half of the 40 percent of “full funding” level to which Congress committed when IDEA was first enacted 33 years ago.  The president’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposal would be the lowest level of support since Fiscal Year 2002.  In addition, the Administration seeks to reduce Medicaid-based reimbursements related to services for special education students, even further reducing federal support for schools to serve students with disabilities. 

Shortchanges after-school programs.  21st Century Learning Centers provide enrichment and a safe and supervised environment for students after the school day ends.  But the President’s budget slashes funding for this program by nearly $300 million (or more than one quarter) and restructures it as a vaguely-defined after-school and summer “scholarship program.”  According to Department of Education estimates, anywhere from 635,000 to 1.1 million students would lose services.  Funding would drop from the Fiscal Year 2008 level of $1.08 billion to $800 million.

Provides inadequate funding for Head Start.  The Head Start program prepares low-income children to enter kindergarten ready to learn by providing child development, education, health, nutrition and other services.  The Bush budget proposes an increase of $149 million in funding for Head Start, for a total of $7.03 billion.  Since 2002, Head Start funding has been cut by 11 percent in real terms.  The program currently only serves only about one-half of the children eligible for the pre-school program, and fewer than five percent of eligible Early Head Start children.  

Cuts funds for safe and drug-free schools.  Safe and drug-free school programs improve school safety, allowing students to learn.  Even as schools struggle to improve security and keep students safe, the President proposes to cut of $194.8 million for safe and drug-free schools state grants, leaving only $100 million for these vital programs.

Rejects bipartisan support for career and technical education.  Approximately 17 million students are served through the Perkins career and technical education programs.  In 2006, Congress passed and the President signed a bill to reauthorize and strengthen these programs.  Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for these programs, the President’s budget proposes to eliminate the entire federal contribution for career and technical education.  The Administration argues that the proposed $400 million increase in Title I would somehow offset the loss of federal funding for these programs, but the net result of the President’s budget would be that states would see their funding eliminated. 

Terminates key education programs.  The President proposes to eliminate 48 discretionary education programs, including – in addition to those described above – education technology state grants, educational opportunity grants, arts in education, elementary school counseling, Even Start family literacy programs, Reading Is Fundamental, mentoring, parental information and resource centers, physical education, dropout prevention, and school leadership grants.