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A Forward-looking Budget for Our Nation’s Students and Workers

A Forward-looking Budget for Our Nation’s Students and Workers

Written by Kathryn Young, JFF Education Policy Director; and Mary Gardner Clagett, JFF Workforce Policy Director

On Wednesday, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2014 budget. At a time when there is much negative news coming from Washington, this budget is actually quite uplifting. Yes, it does address deficit reduction by cutting an additional $1.8 billion from current funding, but it does so through a balanced approach. And importantly, it would continue to make critical investments in education, job training, energy, and infrastructure that would spur our economy, create jobs and wisely invest in our nation’s future.

In the areas of education and training, the President’s budget recognizes the importance of connecting and accelerating students of all ages to college and careers.

The budget proposes to invest significant funds in new high school redesign, dual enrollment/early college, and school turnaround approaches for preparing and connecting students to college and careers. At the same time, the budget proposes reforms in existing K-12 education, career and technical education, and higher education programs that aim to significantly increase the number of students who graduate from our high schools and successfully complete postsecondary education resulting in valued credentials or degrees for today’s demanding careers. Both the creation of new approaches and reforms to our bedrock programs are needed to expand innovative, evidence-based models that improve the outcomes for all of our children.

Places like Hidalgo school district in South Texas and Dayton Early College Academy in Dayton, Ohio have shown that when students, including low-income and underrepresented students, can earn college credits in high school and explore college and career opportunities their success increases in high school, college, and careers while saving time and money.

The President’s budget also proposes investment in STEM innovation networks to better connect students to the high-demand careers that await them if our education and training systems prepare students well. And for the nearly 6.7 million disconnected youth in our nation, the budget would invest in a critical interagency initiative to improve outcomes.

The budget proposes several college affordability and completion measures—many from the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, including a Race to the Top Competition for College Affordability and Completion and a First in the World Competition, both designed to improve outcomes among low-income students. We applaud the Administration’s continued investment in Pell grants; however, it is our hope that Congress and the Administration will also support the restoration of Ability to Benefit provisions in the Higher Education Act, particularly for students in evidence-based career pathways programs, so that adults without a high school diploma or GED can again receive student aid for accelerated pathways to credentials and good jobs. It is also our hope that student aid can begin to evolve to meet the needs of today’s accelerated and competency-based credential programs.

In workforce development, the President’s budget invests in skills by creating a new Universal Displaced Worker Program that would help over a million unemployed workers, including those who are long-term unemployed, acquire the skills they need to compete in today’s economy. It invests in our nation’s veterans to augment transition assistance and training programs for our exiting military as they transition to civilian life. The budget continues the Administration’s Workforce Innovation Fund and invests in a Pathways Back to Work Fund, with the purpose of building pathways for low-income youth and adults to help them get back on track to a good education and employment. And the President’s budget would continue the critical investment in our nation’s community colleges through an $8 billion College to Career Fund, which would continue to fund partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop education and training programs, including critical career pathways and sector-based programs that meet the skill needs of high-demand industry sectors and employers—translation: good careers for America’s workers.

While we know that not every priority that is laid out in this budget will become law, and not every policy proposal is perfect, there are many bold and innovative initiatives that, if pursued, would take our education and training systems to the next level. It is our hope that this budget will help further important conversations about how to ensure that all Americans connect to and succeed in the education and training pathways needed to secure good jobs in our changing economy.

Photograph courtesy of Metro Early College High School, 2011