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June 20, 2024 8:25 am

National News

Biden calls for an unprecedented investment in education, including free preschool

Credit: iStock

Nadra Nittle, the 19th

High-quality preschool. Youth mental health. College affordability.

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for next fiscal year would make education investments, many of them unprecedented, that prioritize the needs of families. The budget blueprint outlines Biden’s policy priorities during a year when he’s on the campaign trail. Congress, however, holds the power of the purse and must draft legislation to set spending levels, a process that in recent years has rarely gotten done on time. The full budget for fiscal year 2024 is still in the works. 

Released Monday, the Biden-Harris administration’s budget request would set aside $25 million to incentivize school districts to start or scale up free high-quality preschool for economically disadvantaged children. It would also provide $40 million to support the mental health of K-12 students and staff and propose initiating a $25 million investment to help higher education institutions meet student mental health needs.

Continuing to address college affordability after making a campaign promise to lower higher education costs, the Biden-Harris administration’s budget request would raise the maximum Pell Grant award — a need-based financial award for college — by $750 or 10 percent, bringing it to $8,145 from $7,395. Similarly, the proposed budget would address the $1.73 trillion student loan debt crisis by giving the Office of Federal Student Aid a staggering $2.66 billion to support borrowers, many of whom are still adjusting after federal student loans entered repayment in October following a pandemic payment pause that began in March 2020. The budget blueprint also proposes ending origination fees, which lenders issue to process loans, on Federal Direct student loans. 

“This budget is about raising the bar,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters Monday. “There are historic investments here requested on top of historic investments delivered.”

“We have grown Title 1 funding for schools supporting low-income students by $1.9 billion to close opportunity and achievement gaps in our nation’s schools and sustain our academic recovery from the impact of the pandemic,” Cardona continued. “This year, even in the context of the caps under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, we’re calling for another $200 million increase.”

Funding under the budget request would address the educator shortage that has affected multiple states during the pandemic years by dedicating $2.9 billion to teacher training and development, a boost of about $100 million over fiscal year 2023 funding. This includes $125 million to develop a diverse teacher workforce and $125 million to reduce shortages of special education teachers. Overall, the Biden-Harris budget request would route $14.4 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a $200 million increase over the funding finalized in the 2023 budget. 

The proposed budget also earmarks $200 million to expand the full-service community schools program (FSCS), doubling since 2021 the federal government’s financial investment in FSCS, which provides resources ranging from health care to nutrition assistance for students and their families at school sites.

Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, which advocates for improving the lives of children and families, mostly applauded Biden’s budget plan. “The proposed enhancements, particularly in early childhood education and support mechanisms for low and middle-income families, highlight a comprehensive strategy that can significantly contribute to alleviating child poverty and improving educational outcomes,” she said in a statement.

Although the budget request makes historic investments in a number of education programs, Congress still has to approve the plan. 

“Every single year, our budgets have been met by loud voices demanding staggeringly reckless and deeply irresponsible cuts,” Cardona said Monday during his call with reporters.

In a statement later that day, Cardona urged Congress to “answer the president’s call to action.”

“Congress would provide states and communities with invaluable resources to bolster a talented, diverse teaching workforce; expand access to multilingual programs; increase school-based mental health services; and meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities,” he said. “Through this budget, the president prioritizes fiscal responsibility while making bold strides to narrow opportunity and achievement gaps.” 

This story is republished from the 19th under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.