Obama: 'Critically Important' to Fund 'English-Learning for Large Portions of Our Student Population'

By Susan Jones | March 17, 2015 | 6:53 AM EDT

President Barack Obama, flanked by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, and Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, meets with the Council of the Great City Schools Leadership, Monday, March 16, 2015,at the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CNSNews.com) - Improving public education "is a monumental task and it requires resources," President Obama said on Monday.

Millions of dollars should be spent on "special education and English-learning for large portions of our student population that may need extra help. That's going to be critically important," Obama told a gathering of school officials and educators at the White House.

The president announced in November that he will allow millions more illegal aliens to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation. This follows his 2012 decision to defer deportation for certain illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as children.

And it follows a summer-time influx of illegal immigrants from Central America, many of them children who are now enrolled in America's taxpayer-funded schools.

In his remarks on Monday, President Obama noted that Republicans are about to release their budget: "My hope is that their budget reflects the priorities of educating every child," he said.

"But I can tell you that if the budget maintains sequester-level funding, then we would actually be spending less on pre-K to 12th grade in America's schools in terms of federal support than we were back in 2000. And that's adjusting for inflation.

"The notion that we would be going backwards instead of forwards in how we're devoting resources to educating our kids makes absolutely no sense."

Obama outlined five "core principals" that guide his thinking on public education:

-- Making sure that we continue to provide resources to the poorest school districts and not creating a situation where we can suddenly shift dollars from...poorer districts to wealthy districts;

-- Making sure that we continue to focus on low-performing schools and that they are getting additional resources;

-- Making sure that we are continuing to assess...how young people are performing (including specific "subgroups");

-- Making sure that we've got high standards and high expectations for all our kids, and making sure that we are providing the resources to teachers and principals to meet those high standards;

-- Making sure that we are investing in special education and English learning for large portions of our student population that may need extra help.

Obama said if those priorities are not reflected in the Republican budget, "then we're going to have to have a major debate."

In his fiscal year 2016 budget, Obama is requesting $773 million for English Language Acquisition grants, an increase of $36 million, to provide increased support to states as they help "the significant growing number of English learners in U.S. schools attain English language proficiency and become college- and career-ready."

Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan told CNN on Monday that "budgets have to reflect our values," and that requires spending money "at every level," from pre-K to higher education. (In January, President Obama proposed "free" community college for "responsible" students.)

Although high school graduation rates are improving among every group, Duncan warned against taking a step backwards:

"[S]o we have to challenge states to invest party in those communities where children have the greatest challenges. We've got to make sure Congress, through the budget process, understands that education is the best investment we can make in our children, our families and our nation, ultimately in our nation's economy.

"There's nothing political or ideological about this," Duncan insisted. "We have to work together to give our children a real chance for success in life."

The Obama administration's 2016 budget requests $70.7 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, an increase of $3.6 billion, or 5.4 percent, over the 2015 level.

That includes $131 million for the Office for Civil Rights, an increase of $30.7 million, for an additional 200 full-time employees to help ensure that the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has the resources to respond to complaints of discrimination and to ensure that Federal grantees follow civil rights laws.

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