Obama Announces "Tough Choices" in Education Spending

President Obama unveiled his 2012 budget Monday morning against the backdrop of a science and technology magnet school classroom. But that budget might receive mixed marks for education funding.

Channeling goals first highlighted in his State of the Union address January 25, Obama announced initiatives to increase America's competitiveness through education and job training.

"We have a responsibility to invest in those areas that will have the biggest impact in our future, and that's especially true when it comes to education," Obama said.

That investment totals $77.4 billion to the Department of Education, including a "significant increase" for primary education, funding to train more than 10 thousand math and science teachers, and an update of the Race to the Top competition first introduced in the 2009 stimulus bill for state and local governments to fund K-12 schools.

Cut from the education budget is some funding for federal Pell Grant awards for income-qualified students to help pay for college tuition. Currently students can receive a maximum of $5500 per academic year in Pell Grants, which reflects a maintained increase of $819 over 2008 levels.

The sustained tuition assistance programs require "tough choices to put them on a firm footing for years to come," Obama said.

Obama's 2012 budget eliminates Pell Grant awards for summer semesters, which cost eight to nine times more than the $1 billion originally allotted, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew said on CNN today.

Also eliminated are federal loan subsidies for graduate students. Currently, students receive federal loans on an interest-deferred basis, so interest would not accumulate while students attend classes. The in-school federal loan subsidy for undergraduate students remains intact.

Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology played host to Obama for his announcement Monday. Obama applauded the suburban Baltimore school for offering students a magnet curriculum in four disciplines, allowing them to specialize from an early age.

"Right now, this school, Parkville, is preparing our kids for the jobs and careers of the 21st century," Obama said. "It's a school that nurtures what students are passionate about and prepares them for success."

"I'm told the most popular subject at this school is engineering, and that's important because today the most common educational background for America's top business leaders isn't economics; it's not finance; it's not even business. It's engineering," Obama continued.

The budget contains $372 million for high-achieving schools like Parkville and other charter and autonomous public schools, which the administration says allow parents more choices for their children's primary education.