President Barack Obama unveiled plans for a significant increase in federal spending for public schools on Monday at a Baltimore middle school known for the kind of innovation he wants to see a lot more of — even if it requires spending scarce resources.
“We wanted to highlight the great work you’re doing in math and science and engineering,” Obama told students at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology. “Your success ultimately is going to mean America’s success.”
With those words, the president made it clear that funding for math and science education will be a part of the $3.73 trillion budget for 2012 that he released on Monday, even as Republicans are demanding deeper cuts and as other areas of education will get less, not more. Obama asked for $77.4 billion in his education proposal, not including a boost in financial aid in the form of Pell grants. (Obama wants to maintain the maximum Pell grant at $5,550 per college student. House Republicans want to cut such grants by about $845, or 15 percent.)
The president’s emphasis on innovation comes at a time of serious concern about U.S. performance in math and science. A recent Hechinger Report look at science education found that “Eighth-graders’ scores on the on the 2007 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) put the United States in the middle of the pack in science achievement, behind nine other countries, including Japan and Russia.”
Schools across the country are in trouble, as billions in emergency stimulus money from the federal government run out. Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on Monday they hope to protect the Race to the Top program — and even continue the competition. The budget includes some $900 million for the program, which includes competitive grants to school districts instead of states. There’s also some $600 million for school turnaround grants.
The budget also makes some far-reaching cuts, as Duncan pointed out during a conference call with reporters on Monday. “As the president said … to win the future, we need to invest in education … essentially we must cut where we can to invest where we must.”
He added that “these are some of the toughest budget times we’ve seen in decades.”