The President’s FY2011 budget request calls for significant increases in education spending and, as promised, the Department of Education is exempt from Obama’s so-called spending freeze.

At a briefing today at the Department of Education, words such as “historic” and “bold” were used to describe the President’s budget. Secretary Duncan stated that the FY2011 budget represents “one of the largest increases” in education spending, which the president “sees as the key to our economic future”.

But is more spending on education the key to economic prosperity? For that matter, is it even the key to raising academic achievement?

Since 1985, inflation-adjusted federal spending on K-12 education has increased 138 percent. Yet, indicators of educational improvement such as increases in academic achievement and graduation rates have remained flat.

Despite the evidence that more spending is not the answer to increasing academic achievement, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development Carmel Martin noted during the briefing that discretionary funding for the Department of Education will increase 10 percent under the president’s proposed budget, raising total discretionary spending to $50.7 billion.

Included in this “historic” spending increase is $3 billion for ESEA programs, $173 billion in college loans and grants, and $9.3 billion for a new preschool program created in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

The budget increase also includes a $1 billion reserve fund for the Department of Education, contingent upon successful reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). But those of us who’ve taught in the classroom know that you don’t give students extra credit for simply doing their assignments. That’s why the administration’s proposed $1 billion incentive for Congress to complete a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is puzzling. After all, it’s Congress’s job to complete legislative assignments such as ESEA, which has been due for reauthorization since 2008. It’s also a little strange for the White House to be proposing an extra $1 billion as an incentive, since the Congress holds the power of the purse and could choose to increase funding for ESEA itself.

Perhaps the president feels that this is the increase that will finally solve the problems facing American education. When it’s all said and done, the president’s Fy2011 budget for the Department of Education tops $77 billion. This includes $50 billion in discretionary spending, $1 billion for successful ESEA reauthorization, and $35 billion for Pell grants, which became mandatory in 2010. The budget increase comes on top of last year’s $100 billion infusion of “stimulus” cash into the Department of Education’s coffer. Unfortunately, the sacred cow of education spending has been spared of the spending freeze.

Rather than calling for “historic” increases in federal spending or gimmicks like this $1 billion ESEA reauthorization incentive, Congress and the administration should focus on streamlining and reforming federal education programs in 2010 to better serve students and taxpayers.

Click here for more analysis on the 2011 Budget.