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Published in Print: September 17, 2003, as Senate Spending Bill Adds Spec. Ed. Funding

Senate Spending Bill Adds Spec. Ed. Funding

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Special education was the big winner in Senate debate this month over the Department of Education budget, as lawmakers backed an amendment to secure an extra $1.2 billion for the federal program next fiscal year.

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View the accompanying table, "Education Spending."

On top of the increase already in the bill, special education state grants would increase by $2.2 billion, or 25 percent, under the appropriations bill, to a total of $11.1 billion. The amendment passed by a voice vote.

But other education programs weren't so lucky. Efforts by Democrats, joined in some cases by at least a few Republicans, to spend billions of dollars more on Title I, after-school aid, and teacher-quality grants, among other programs, were largely rebuffed. One critical difference in the special education vote was that the Senate provided an offset elsewhere in the bill.

The Senate bill, approved 94-0 on Sept. 10, would provide a total of $55.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department in fiscal 2004, which begins Oct. 1. The House in July approved slightly less, $55.4 billion. On special education, the House version contains $9.9 billion.

The next step is for members of both chambers to meet in a conference committee and arrive at final spending figures for all programs in the massive spending bill, which covers the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

Whatever the final figure for education, it seems destined to be higher than the $53.1 billion President Bush requested in February. That amount would keep overall spending about the same as in fiscal 2003.

Iraq Plan Cited

A few other education-related amendments passed. Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., successfully pushed an amendment adding $5 million to the $1.18 billion already set aside for impact aid, which provides financial help to school districts whose tax bases are limited by the presence of federal installations. And Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, secured $2.2 million for an existing grants program to promote the history of the Underground Railroad.

Some Democrats played the Iraq card in making their case to increase spending on education programs. President Bush announced last week that he would request an additional $87 billion in fiscal 2004 to pay for the military and reconstruction efforts in that nation, as well as in Afghanistan.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., cited the proposed overseas aid in calling for more money for after-school programs at home.

"I think it is very sad, indeed, for the children of America to know they will not have this after-school opportunity that will keep them on the right track, when we are giving billions of dollars to the children of Iraq and billions of dollars to the children of Afghanistan," she said.

Vol. 23, Issue 3, Page 25

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