Making cuts, shifting spending: Sec’y Duncan unveils first budget

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More classroom time, more early education and more incentives for school staff are at the top of the agenda for next year under a proposed $47.6 billion federal education budget unveiled Thursday.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about the 2010 education budget in a telephone press conference with reporters, where he repeatedly stressed that his goal was to cut wasteful or ineffective programs and shift spending with a “laser-like focus” toward initiatives that aim to improve the worst-performing schools.

More classroom time, more early education and more incentives for school staff are at the top of the agenda for next year under a proposed $47.6 billion federal education budget unveiled Thursday.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about the 2010 education budget in a telephone press conference with reporters, where he repeatedly stressed that his goal was to cut wasteful or ineffective programs and shift spending with a “laser-like focus” toward initiatives that aim to improve the worst-performing schools.

To that end, the budget slashes12 programs, including Even Start, a literacy program that teaches parenting, adult literacy and child development to low-income families and preschoolers, and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program.

The $550 million spent on those programs, which officials say were too small to have an impact or were found to be ineffective in formal evaluations, will be spent on incentive grants or other competitive grant programs.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Duncan said. “We need to be smarter and more targeted in our investment.”

Illinois received $2.5 million for Even Start and $11.7 million for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools initiative this year. (For a breakdown of federal funding for Illinois by program and how it will change between 2009 and 2010, go to this page on the Department of Education website and click on “State tables by state.”)

Referring to Chicago’s turnaround program, Duncan also talked about his move to shift $1.5 billion in Title 1 funding to grants for school improvement initiatives at the very lowest-performing schools. About 40 percent of those funds will be targeted at middle schools and high schools, and Duncan made it clear that the bulk of the money should be spent to increase the time children spend in school, whether through a longer school day or a longer school year.

Title 1 funds will also be spent on early childhood, with $500 million for preschool and $300 million to help states create systems to rate and improve the quality of early education programs.

The budget also includes a substantial boost (over $400 million) for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which gives grants to districts to reward teachers and principals for boosting student performance. Last year’s federal education budget, crafted by Duncan predecessor Margaret Spellings, included $100 million for the fund; Duncan proposes $517 million, which is further bolstered by another $200 million for teacher incentives in the federal education stimulus package.

Citing programs in Chicago that give rewards to all school personnel, including security guards and lunchroom personnel, Duncan plans to ask Congress to include a provision allowing non-educators to receive grants from the fund.

“This is a real chance to work with districts on designing innovative programs,” Duncan said.

The $47.6 billion budget also includes $10 million for Promise Neighborhoods, the Obama Administration program that will give competitive grants to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Other cuts included eliminating jobs for regional representatives of the department, as well as a Paris-based position—apartment included—for an educational representative to the United Nations. “We’re trying to cut jobs for political hacks,” Duncan said.