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Obamas edu. budget a tough sell on Capitol Hill

President Barack Obama’s budget request for increased spending in education is likely to face a tough fight against Republicans – and even if it ends up being approved, the extra money wouldn’t stave off another round of layoffs and classroom cuts expected this year as federal aid dries up and states struggle to recover from the recession.

The 4.35-percent increase that Obama proposed Monday would go toward expanding the highlights of his education agenda: A third round of Race to the Top, the competition that awarded $4.35 billion to 11 states and the District of Columbia last year for pursuing ambitious education reforms; a 10 percent increase in grants to turn around the nation’s lowest performing school; and $4.3 billion for teacher and principal development.

Additional money would maintain an increase in the maximum Pell Grant awards to $5,500 by cutting $100 billion through reductions in graduate and professional student loan subsidies, as well as eliminating the “year-round Pell” that allowed students to collect two grants in a calendar year.

House Education and Labor Committee chairman John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota, derided the proposal, saying increases in education spending over the last 45 years have not yielded improvements in student achievement, and that the Democratic-led Congress overreached in expanding the Pell Grant program.

“Throwing more money at our nation’s broken education system ignores reality and does a disservice to students and taxpayers,” Kline said in a statement. “It is time we asked why increasing the federal government’s role in education has failed to improve student achievement.”

Meanwhile, appropriations from the 2011 fiscal year have still not been approved, and a Republican bill introduced Friday would cut $4.9 billion in education from the 2010 budget.

All of that makes increasing education spending a difficult sell.

“It’s going to be really hard to work out a compromise,” said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a nonprofit organization that advocates for increased federal education spending. “We’re worried we’re going to end up with a government shutdown.”

Packer and others said districts are facing a triple blow to their education budgets: The end of stimulus money from the Recovery Act, which provided an unprecedented $100 billion for education; ongoing budget cuts at the state and local level and, depending on Congress, potential federal cuts.

Federal money represents about 10.5 percent of most education budgets, but the huge influx of stimulus and emergency teacher jobs funding over the last two years helped soften cuts to the classroom. Now as that money dries up, districts are expected to slash from already bare-bone budgets.

Analysts say a modest increase in education spending at the federal level would be dwarfed by state cuts.

“It doesn’t match the magnitude of what’s really happening on the ground out there,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, of the president’s budget request. “That we’re seeing the biggest decreases in education spending since the Great Depression.”