At a hearing on Capitol Hill today, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan outlined for members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee President Obama's fiscal year 2013 education priorities. In discussing the Obama administration's education agenda, Duncan underscored the administration's commitment to ensuring all students gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed while continuing to empower states, districts and schools to pursue bold reforms.
"The President's budget request recognizes that a high-quality education is absolutely critical to rebuilding our economy and a strengthened American workforce requires that we continue to invest in education," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) "We know from the President's budget that we can be fiscally responsible as a nation while making strategic investments in our future if ideology does not trump what's in the best interest of children and families."
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the committee's senior Democrat, drew stark contrasts between the President's budget and the budget released by House Republicans last week. The Republican budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 calls for massive tax breaks for those making over $1 million per year and oil and gas companies, while slashing the budget of federal programs that serve millions of low-income and middle-income Americans.
In particular, the Republican budget would cut 400,000 students from the Pell Grant program. Their budget rolls back a key improvement to the program authored by Democrats that indexed the maximum award to inflation. Under current law, the maximum Pell Grant award is projected to increase to $5,635 for the 2013-2014 school year. The Republican plan freezes the award at $5,550.
Secretary Duncan highlighted four key education priorities of the administration: continuing to provide incentives for state and local K-12 reform, improving affordability and quality in postsecondary education, elevating the teaching profession, and aligning education and job training programs with workforce demands.
"While the President's overall 2013 request reflects his strong commitment to achieving long-term deficit reduction, his request for education recognizes that we can't cut back on investments like education if we want to ensure America's continued economic prosperity," said Duncan
Miller praised the Secretary for taking steps to provide states with flexibility from certain parts of NCLB in exchange for adopting serious reform efforts; such as implementing college and career-ready standards in reading and math, creating comprehensive principal development and teacher evaluations and executing new accountability and school improvement systems.
The president's FY 2013 budget also keeps interest rates on need-based student loans from doubling this July. If Congress fails to act before July 1, interest rates for more than 7 million low-income and students and families will increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
In 2007, under Miller's leadership and with bipartisan support, Congress took steps to make higher education more financially manageable by lowering interest rates on need-based student loans to 3.4 percent.
If Congress doesn't take swift action students applying for new subsidized Stafford loans could face as much as $5,000 in higher loan repayment costs. As Duncan said, "Allowing those interest rates to double through congressional inaction is not acceptable."