As one part of a $4 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is pushing for nearly $100 billion in spending increases that craft a cradle-to-career role for the federal government in education.
Obama’s ambitious proposal begins right after a child’s birth, with the president proposing a new $3,000 tax credit per child to pay for child care. He also seeks to triple the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for families with children under five, and would allow the credit to apply to families earning up to $120,000.
From there, the president moves on to preschool, pushing for a substantial boost in funding in order to further his goal of universal pre-K education for the country’s 4 year olds. On top of a $1.5 billion boost to Head Start funding, Obama proposes a $500 million hike to the amount of Preschool Development Grants, a 200 percent increase, as well as a $115 million increase to programs that help provide preschool for disabled children.
Obama plans to pay for his preschool proposals by raising taxes on cigarettes, an action he says “will help reduce youth smoking and save lives.”
From there, Obama moves to K-12 education, where he proposes another billion dollars to increase Title I funds, which currently go to aid low-income schools. He also suggests spending a billion dollars in each of the next five years to create a program that will help encourage more talented individuals to be teachers. Lesser proposals of a few hundred million dollars each seek to support special education, STEM education and in one of the few proposals the right may support, charter schools.
Obama’s most ambitious efforts, however, are reserved for college education. The budget includes his much-heralded proposal to provide two years of free community college for every American. The White House expects the program to cost about $60 billion over 10 years, but that figure is backloaded, costing just a few million dollars to get off the ground while it will ultimately end up costing several billion dollars a year once a large number of students are participating.
Another boon for college graduates would be Obama’s proposal to eliminate the “tax bomb” that currently hits those who have their student loans forgiven by the government. Under current law, the IRS treats forgiven student loans as taxable earnings, meaning that those who have large sums forgiven can be hit with tens of thousands of dollars in extra taxes. Obama wants to change the law so that loan forgiveness is untaxed.
Under a deluge of spending increases, the absence of one program is telling. Race to the Top, a program that offered bonus funding to states that adopted various education reforms, isn’t mentioned in the White House’s fact sheet after being the subject of a $300 million proposal last year. RTTT is likely gone thanks to the backlash against Common Core, the adoption of which RTTT incentivized. Backers of the standards have urged the Obama administration to avoid promoting Common Core in order to weaken claims the standards are a federal imposition on the states.
Democratic organizations have unsurprisingly praised Obama’s numerous spending boosts.
“Government can’t do it all, but it can help level the playing field for working families. That’s what the president’s budget aims to do,” said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a statement.
Obama was also praised by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which is happy with his $123 million increase in government aid to charter schools.
Praised or not, though, the president’s plan is almost certainly just a rhetorical tool. Republicans have already bashed the budget as “laughable,” and their opposition to big moves like free community college is well-established. With the Republican Congress in control of the budget, Obama’s big spending increases will almost certainly be stillborn.
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