The Triumph of Community Schools Biden's support suggests an end to government policies that blame teachers for low test scores.

AuthorBryant, Jeff

Show me your budget, the saying goes, and I'll show you your priorities. If that adage is true, then President Joe Bidens first budget request for the U.S. Department of Education signals a significant departure from the education policy priorities of previous presidential administrations.

And not just a shift from the priorities of the Trump Administration, which was expected, but also from those of the Obama years. It's a welcome sign that the era of blaming teachers for low test scores may finally be coming to an end.

Obama's first budget request for the Department of Education, submitted to Congress in 2009, was all about fiscal austerity and accountability. It called for cutting Title I funds--the federal government's program to support high-poverty schools--and shifting $1 billion from that program to grants for highly disruptive federal interventions in "low-performing" public schools (read: schools with low test scores).

Other budget priorities included controversial teacher pay-for-performance programs and extra resources targeted just to high schools--all "while holding down spending," Education Week reported.

Biden faces a difficult economic climate, as did Obama, this time caused by a pandemic, and the fact that his party's majorities in Congress are much thinner than those that Obama enjoyed at the start of his first term.

Yet Bidens first budget submission is much more progressive than what Obama offered, calling for more than doubling Title I from its current $16.5 billion to $36.5 billion, as Chalkbeat reported. Other notable proposals from Biden include: more money for early childhood education; an approximately 20 percent boost of $2.6 billion for educating students with disabilities; and $1 billion to help schools hire more counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals.

Biden also signaled his administration may be radically changing the federal government's approach to improving academic outcomes in schools by tucking into his proposals a major increase in funding for supporting and expanding the Department of Education's Full-Service Community Schools Program.

That program's budget languished at a miniscule $30 million and was, in fact, canceled altogether for fiscal year 2021 due to COVID-19's impact on schools and communities, according to a letter from acting director Elson Nash. Yet Biden's budget would boost funding for FSCS by $413 million, an almost fourteen-fold increase, to $443 million, according to Chalkbeat.

Why give more funding to an obscure federal program? Turns out there's a good reason. Actually, lots of them.

The Full-Service Community Schools Program provides funding for schools that have adopted a model that makes local schools a hub for a broad array of services for children and families, as its website says, "particularly for children attending high-poverty schools."

The program's grants help schools address factors outside of schools that affect learning, such as nutrition and physical activity, health...

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