Response to President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Proposal

By Diann Woodard, AFSA President

We thank President Obama for putting forth a budget plan that seeks to balance stimulus spending, investments, and revenue increases to tackle our long term deficit reduction needs while meeting our immediate fiscal challenges head on.

We are especially pleased that the president continues to hold education as a top priority by investing $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, which is 2.5 percent, or $1.7 billion, above the 2012 enacted level.

In addition, we applaud the president’s investment of $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools and $30 billion to help states and localities retain and hire educators and first responders. For far too long, many children have been forced to learn in dilapidated school buildings that are a hazard to their health. This is unacceptable. As school leaders, one of our top priorities is the safety of our students. Investing in school infrastructure will not only improve the conditions of schools and bring our students into a 21st century learning environment, it will also create much-needed jobs for workers in construction and other trades.

With fiscal support, states and localities will be better equipped to avoid further cuts that could have a significant impact on children’s education, such as increased class sizes and the elimination of critical programs and services. It is essential that school leaders have necessary resources, support personnel and great teachers in every classroom to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.

While we are still reviewing the document in its entirety, we must express concern with many of the education investments that appear based on competition. For example, the Race To The Top program rewards the winners with temporary funding increases and inherently creates losers. Sadly, the schools that do not win these competitions are often the very ones that need the greatest support.

In addition, in a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we believe all schools should be granted immediate relief from No Child Left Behind’s flawed Adequate Yearly Progress, not just the ones that adhere to certain unproven policies.

As the leaders of public schools, we strive to work with the resources made available to us to provide every child who walks through our school doors with the highest quality education possible. That is why we enter this profession; our core motivation is not a financial reward, or even to avoid arbitrary sanctions.

We are motivated to make a difference in the lives of our students. Regardless of the struggles they may be experiencing, when students arrive at our schools, we are rewarded when they find a way to put it all aside and learn.  Finding out what interests them, engages them and inspires them to learn and to improve as students and as citizens is our greatest reward.

We will continue to call for a comprehensive and concerted approach that recognizes this, and one that seeks to strengthen and rebuild our education system as a whole. Until we address the issues of poverty, funding inequities, access to quality health care and other challenges prevalent in poor and underserved communities, we will not find solutions to the problems we face in education.