President Obama released a relatively unambitious, largely partisan proposal for funding the federal government for fiscal year 2015, which begins on October 1, 2014. In recent years, the president’s budget request has included proposals that have driven successful education policy reforms, including a debate and new funding for early education programs and reforms to student loan interest rates. This year’s budget request, though, has been widely disparaged as dead on arrival. Even so, the bill offers some important insights to the White House’s thinking as it heads into the middle of Obama’s second term. New America’s Education Policy Program has gathered some of the highlights of the bill here.
On the whole, the fiscal year 2015 budget totals slightly more than is allowed by the spending limit Congress and the president agreed to earlier this year ($1.014 trillion, as compared with $1.012 trillion). It is, however, equal to the spending limit for fiscal year 2016 set by the same law passed earlier this year; that might make budgeting for next year more challenging by demanding the White House budget for flat funding even though programs’ needs may have evolved or grown. The president also sets aside $56 billion in spending above that total appropriations limit, half of which would fund defense programs and half of which is reserved for non-defense spending. Paid for with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, that fund—called the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative”—wouldn’t be within the spending caps unless lawmakers agree to an equivalent amount of changes.
The budget’s early learning initiatives include the ‘Preschool for All’ proposal that the White House first announced last year. It would fund increased access to state pre-K programs with the same state matching system the administration already recommended, funded by an increase to the federal tobacco tax. The program would fund expanded pre-K access with $1.3 billion next year; double funding for Preschool Development Grants to $500 million (plus an extra $250 million in the Opportunity fund) to help states build out their infrastructure; expand funding for the Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships established by the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill to $650 million from $500 million last year (plus an extra $800 million in the Opportunity fund); and include state incentives for full-day kindergarten. Home visiting, funding for which is set to expire after the current fiscal year, would be extended for 10 more years with mandatory funding totaling $15 billion over that period.
And Head Start, which received a $1 billion shot in the arm in the 2014 appropriations bill, would receive a slight increase of another $120 million next year. However, those programs are unlikely to see much more action on Capitol Hill, particularly given a report that House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan released yesterday excoriating the Head Start and other social programs—an aggressive move that preempted components of the president’s proposed budget.