Secretary Arne Duncan's Testimony Before the House Appropriations Committee on the President's Proposals for the 2011 Education Budget and for the Reauthorization of ESEA

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Chairman Obey, Ranking Member Tiahrt, Members of the Committee:

I want to begin by thanking you for what you have done to keep America's teachers in the classroom and to keep America's children learning.

The Recovery Act saved nearly 325,000 education-related jobs and another 75,000 non-education jobs at the state level – and that's just through our department. This funding not only helped stabilize the economy and avoid a depression, but it absolutely averted an educational catastrophe.

All told we have obligated over $70 billion dollars from the Recovery Act. We have $25 billion left – most of which will be out the door in the next few months. That money will help states balance budgets, help young people pay for college and help drive the change we need in our classrooms to prepare our children for the jobs of the future.

Let me turn to our proposed 2011 education budget. As you know, while most federal spending is frozen, President Obama is proposing a historic increase in education funding. He understands that education is the key to our economic security and – even in these challenging times – he remains deeply committed to this issue.

The President is requesting a 7.5 percent increase in discretionary spending – from $46.2 billion dollars to $49.7 billion. It supports our cradle-to-career agenda, from pre-school through college. Our K-12 budget is focused on six areas, all of them about supporting students and teachers.

College and Career-Ready Students is our new proposed name for the Title I formula grant program, which we continue to fund at historic levels. The Title I program will also receive substantial Recovery Act dollars next year.

We also propose more funding for school turnarounds from $546 million to $900 million so we can continue to focus on the lowest-performing five percent of each State's schools.

Second, because students need a well-rounded education, we propose a $100 million dollar increase for learning programs beyond tested subjects like reading, writing, math and science, such as technology, the arts, languages, history and other subjects. All told we will request more than $1 billion next year to promote a well-rounded education.

Third, Student Supports are needed to insure the proper learning environment.

Our budget proposes a $245 million increase over 2010 for a total of $1.8 billion dollars to improve school climate, student health, student safety, parental engagement and community involvement.

This includes continued support for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. We also want to work with Congress to refine this program so it lifts student outcomes and incorporates enrichment activities through community partnerships.

We're also proposing a major investment in a new program modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone. It's called Promise Neighborhoods and it seeks to transform whole communities with schools as neighborhood anchors. It provides wraparound social services from birth through college to students and families at risk.

The fourth area of reform we are calling Diverse Learners. This includes students with disabilities, who will benefit from a requested $250 million dollar boost to the IDEA formula grant program. Like Title I, IDEA will also continue to receive substantial Recovery Act dollars this year.

Other diverse learning populations include English Language Learners, which will get a $50 million dollar boost under our proposal, and we are maintaining dedicated funding for migrant students, homeless students, rural students, and Native American students.

The fifth area of reform is called Teachers and Leaders. No one is more essential to educational success than the person in front of the class and the person who is running the school building.

This proposed budget seeks $3.9 billion dollars – a $350 million dollar increase – to elevate the teaching profession and get effective teachers and leaders to the schools that need them the most.

We're also requesting a large investment in teacher and principal leadership programs so states and districts can recruit and train the very best possible people they can find.

We further support both traditional and non-traditional pathways into teaching so people from all walks of life can bring their experience and knowledge into the classroom.

And our budget invests in programs to reward educators for raising achievement and working in hard-to-staff schools and subjects.

The final area falls under the category of Innovation. We are proposing almost $2.5 billion dollars to increase high-quality charter and other autonomous public schools and magnet schools and to continue the Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation programs. With so many children at risk of failure, America cannot accept the status quo. The fact is:

  • 27% of America's young people drop out of high school. That means 1.2 million teenagers are leaving our schools for the streets.
  • In our 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 other countries. In science, our 15-year-olds rank 17th.
  • Just 40% of young people earn a two-year or four-year college degree and the US now ranks 10th in the world in the rate of college completion.

We must embrace new approaches to learning and expand proven models of success. We must hold everyone accountable for results. And we must aim higher.

Our states recognize the problem and that's why 48 of them are working together to raise standards, and 40 of them – along with Washington DC – have developed bold reform plans in their bid for Race to the Top funding.

We are also seeing considerable bipartisan interest – both in the states and here in Congress – in our reauthorization proposal. I would like to briefly touch on some of the key elements, which are organized around our three major goals.

  1. Raising standards so that students graduate high school college and career ready.
  2. Rewarding excellence and growth.
  3. Increasing local control and flexibility while maintaining the focus on equity and closing achievement gaps.

We believe that states do not need a prescription for success. They need a common definition of success. And we need a better system of accountability.As you know, NCLB greatly expanded the federal role in holding schools accountable. It required states, districts and schools to report test scores disaggregated by student subgroups, bringing much-needed transparency around achievement gaps. NCLB was right to create a system based on results for students, not just on inputs.

But NCLB's accountability system encourages states to lower standards. It doesn't measure growth or reward excellence. It prescribes the same one-size-fits-all interventions for schools with very different needs.

It also leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and excessive focus on test preparation. And it labels too many schools as "failing" — regardless of the progress they are making.

Our proposal will use student academic growth as the measure of whether schools, districts, and states are making progress. It's a fairer, more honest and more useful indicator. Most educators say they want to be evaluated on growth – not proficiency.

As I said before, our proposal supports a well-rounded education not only by requesting more than $1 billion for the arts, history, science, languages and other subjects but by allowing – not mandating – states to use these subjects in their accountability system.

Under our plan, we will also reward schools that are making the most progress and we will be tough-minded in our lowest-performing schools and schools with large achievement gaps that aren't closing. All other schools will be given flexibility to meet performance targets working under their state and local accountability systems.

Now I understand there are concerns that small, rural districts cannot compete with large urban districts for grants. So here's what we will do.

First of all, we will continue funding the Rural Education Program, also known as REAP. It has not been consolidated with any other programs or funding streams.

Second, we will look at competitive priorities for rural districts where it makes sense and is needed – and we welcome that discussion with you.

Finally, we are also identifying foundations and non-profit organizations to partner with rural districts.

I have traveled to many rural areas in the past year and seen first-hand both the challenges they face as well as their capacity to address them. I am confident that our department can support rural school districts as they work to improve – and compete.

So those are some of the highlights and I encourage you and your staff to review our blueprint for reauthorization which is available on-line.

I want to make one additional point about efficiency and our obligation to taxpayers. In our proposed 2011 budget, we list $340 million dollars in savings by cutting ineffective programs and eliminating earmarks. We also consolidated 38 programs down to 11 funding streams to reduce red tape and paperwork for local educators.

The bottom line is that between our budget and our blueprint we have a coherent and comprehensive vision for education in the 21st century that builds on core values shared by Congress and the administration:

  • High standards and better assessments
  • Rewarding excellence with real incentives based on student growth
  • And a smarter, more limited federal role that supports – rather than directs – state and local educators.

Let me just close by voicing my concern for education budgets across the country.

Even with the remaining Recovery Act dollars, states are facing teacher layoffs, cutting school days, and furloughing teachers to balance their budgets.

For many states, the funding cliff arrives this July.

I want to thank the House for supporting an education jobs bill. I appreciate that there is growing concern that the federal government cannot continue funding states indefinitely.

But America cannot neglect its obligation to children now.

Somehow we must find a way to continue to support our teachers and principals, parents and students so that we emerge from this difficult economic period stronger and better prepared for tomorrow.

Thank you and I am happy to take your questions.