Focus Funding on Neediest Students, AFT Urges Congress

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Congress must counter a new wave of state and local budget meltdowns by preserving equity in education through targeted federal help for the students and schools that need it most, AFT president Randi Weingarten told a key House panel on March 17.

With federal stimulus winding down, states face additional budget gaps of up to $180 billion next year, Weingarten testified at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing tied to President Obama's budget proposal for the current fiscal year. Massive state and municipal shortfalls, she warned, could "undermine all the good work that the Recovery Act has done" and take a devastating toll on students, "especially those whose families have been hit hardest by the recession."

Weingarten said President Obama's budget plan offers a strong response to this crisis in areas such as early childhood education and student loans—but it also rests on troubling approaches that could weaken the nation's historic commitment to help level the playing field for students from all walks of life.

"We are concerned that virtually all of the proposed increase is for competitive grants, while Title I—the lifeblood for our most disadvantaged children—is flat-funded" in the administration's proposal. The mix is wrong, and "we believe that Title I, Teacher Quality State Grants, IDEA and Title III all deserve significant formula-based increases," Weingarten said. "A child's education should not be based upon how well adults write grant applications."

Also disturbing, Weingarten said, is the administration's push in its budget plan for conditional Title I aid—a "strings attached" offer of help to high-needs schools in states that agree to adopt several measures sought by the administration in a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. "Conditioning funds intended and needed for the education of disadvantaged children is not the way to implement long-term systemic goals that should apply to everyone," Weingarten said.

"We request that this committee ask the tough questions about the proposals made in this budget—the most direct and important ones being: Will they work? Will they help students and teachers succeed by providing them with the tools they need? Will they require responsibility from all—not just from teachers? Will they lead us to a vote on a bill that we all can support and pass and see well-implemented—or are they the start of another season of dissatisfaction on the bumpy road to reauthorization?" [Mike Rose]

March 18, 2010