February 13, 2012 / 4:22 PM / 6 years ago

Obama calls for focus on vocational training

(Reuters) - President Obama proposed substantial new spending on education with a $69.8 billion education budget heavily focused on boosting vocational training, both at the high-school and college level.

The centerpiece of the education budget is an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund, which aims to train 2 million workers for jobs in fields such as high-tech manufacturing, clean energy and healthcare.

The initiative would encourage partnerships between two-year colleges and local businesses to identify in-demand skills and develop courses that help build them. It would also finance online and in-person training for up to 600,000 aspiring entrepreneurs.

But the fund requires congressional approval, which is far from assured. In 2009, Obama called for an aggressive $12billion investment in community colleges. Congress allocated just $2 billion.

Overall, Obama is asking for an increase of 2.5 percent, or$1.7 billion, in discretionary spending on education.

Several pricey initiatives in the proposed budget are likely to be in be popular with middle-class voters. They include making permanent tax credit that some 9 million taxpayers use to offset the cost of college tuition; scrapping a scheduled hike in interest rates on student loans; and slightly increasing the maximum Pell Grant for low-income students attending college.

Obama is also repeating his call from the State of the Union address for colleges to lay out more transparently information about tuition costs, average student loan debt, graduation rates-- and how well graduates fare in the job market.

In the K-12 arena, Obama is pushing to expand his signature Race to the Top initiative. The competitive grant program prods states to take dramatic steps such as wiping out traditional teacher tenure protections so that administrators have more flexibility to fire teachers who fail to raise student test scores or manage their classrooms effectively.

The new budget calls for pumping another $850 million into Race to the Top. Some of that money would be set aside for individual school districts, rather than states. And some would-be directed to programs that serve the nation’s youngest students, by getting low-income and at-risk three- and four-year olds ready for kindergarten.

Obama is also asking Congress to direct $1.1 billion to improve career and technical education at the secondary-school level. And he is asking for funding to recruit and train 100,000math and science teachers over the next decade. (Reporting By Stephanie Simon; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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