Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Obama Years

[This addendum (November, 2009) is a brief summary of educational policymaking in the first ten months of the administration of President Barack Obama. It is not intended as an in-depth analysis of state-federal interaction in education policy in the manner of the previous chapters.]

While much of the public attention in the first year of the Obama Administration has been on economic recovery and health care reform, significant education policy efforts have been initiated by the administration and Congress. Education spending was a major focus within the economic stimulus bill, entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act appropriated over $40 billion in stabilization aid to state governments to alleviate budget shortfalls, as well as additional funds through IDEA and Title I of ESEA. The stabilization aid is meant to fund short-term programs, as the funding will not be available past the 2011 fiscal year, but some states have replaced some of their own educational appropriations with federal funds, leading some to worry that state education funding could decrease sharply when stabilization aid ends.

In addition, the administration has tied further state stimulus aid to a federal education reform agenda. This includes the Race to the Top Fund, a $4.35 billion competitive grant program that requires states that apply for the funds to submit a plan addressing four education reform goals, including the use of internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments, the recruitment and retention of effective teachers and principals, the adoption of data systems to track student progress, and the improvement of low-performing schools. In addition, states must remove any statutory barriers to using data about student achievement to assess the performance of teachers and administrators, and must remove limits to the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

The administration has also identified teacher quality as a major component in working toward educational equity. The 2009 appropriations bill includes a massive increase in funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund, a program available to state and local education agencies that provides funds for increased performance-based salaries for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

Meanwhile, in a major speech to 200 education leaders at the end of September Secretary Arne Duncan launched the reauthorization process for the No Child Left Behind Act (ESEA), calling on them to “join with us to build a transformative education law that guarantees every child the education they want and need—a law that recognizes and reinforces the proper role of the federal government to support and drive reform at the state and local level.”


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Footnotes: The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.

Organizations: Links to many of the organizations mentioned in this essay.

To view snapshots of the political context for the education policy, organized by administration, see Educational Policymakers. For the Obama administration, see 2009-present.