updated 5/7/2009 8:21:28 PM ET 2009-05-08T00:21:28

Is President Barack Obama afraid of facing down Moby Dick?

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In his budget proposal for 2010, Obama seeks several education cuts but spares a $9 million program to promote the history of whaling and trade in Massachusetts, which Captain Ahab departed from in search of the great white whale in Herman Melville's acclaimed novel.

Museums in Alaska and Hawaii get some of the money, too, because of trading relationships that developed over two centuries of trade linking natives with coastal towns of Massachusetts. Oddly, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians also gets some of the money for historical and cultural awareness programs.

Former President George W. Bush tried to kill the whaling spending, but like many other such programs, it was protected by congressional patrons. They include Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a key Obama supporter, former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii and Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

A few other programs don't fare as well in Obama's budget for the Education Department, which is sprinkled with cuts.

Cuts to drug prevention, literacy
Obama would eliminate $300 million in state grants for drug prevention. He would eliminate the Even Start family literacy program, which costs nearly $70 million and is not working well, according to the administration. And he would stop paying for an educational attache in Paris, which costs the government $632,000 a year.

"I actually applied for the job and didn't get it," Education Secretary Arne Duncan joked Thursday on a conference call. He called it a "political hack" job.

Also on the chopping block are several regional representative jobs across the country, which cost another $2 million.

Obama also is cutting about $37 million in civic education programs.

Education overall would see an increase in spending, however.

Obama would create a successor to the controversial Reading First literacy program, a key element of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law that was dogged by allegations of conflict of interest and studies saying it didn't make any difference in how well kids read.

In its place, Obama would boost funding to $370 million for another federal literacy program called Striving Readers.

Perhaps more significant is Obama's plan to plow $2 billion more into merit-based teacher pay and failing-school turnarounds in an effort to alter perceptions about what works in education.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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