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Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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House Panel OKs Education Budget

A House subcommittee unanimously approved a $2 billion raise for the Department of Education last week, outbidding President Bush’s request by $400 million.

The wide-ranging spending bill would provide $1 billion increases apiece for the Title I program for disadvantaged students and special education state grants.

Democrats, on a party-line vote, lost in their effort to add $7.4 billion more to the spending bill for the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, money that would have been offset by scaling back recent tax cuts for individuals earning more than $1 million in adjusted gross income.

The budget plan, passed 18-0 by a House appropriations subcommittee, would raise discretionary spending at the Education Department to $57.7 billion, a 3.6 percent increase. In February, Mr. Bush asked Congress for $57.3 billion for the agency.

The House bill assumes the elimination of 13 education programs, including the $119 million Teaching of Traditional American History grants program.

—Erik W. Robelen

Department Says States Risk Losing School Aid

The Department of Education has told states that some of them have "substantial balances" of federal education aid that they risk losing if it’s not designated for specific projects by Sept. 30.

"There is still time for you to take steps to ensure that your agency and its subgrantees make appropriate obligations," said Jack Martin, the department’s chief financial officer, in a June 24 memo.

He noted that last fiscal year, nearly $155 million in federal aid made available in fiscal 1998 reverted to the U.S. Treasury because it wasn’t used in time.

A top House Republican released some related figures last month to make the case that federal aid is increasing faster than states can spend it. He said that, collectively, states as of late June had $2.7 billion in unspent education aid that was made available two or more years ago, and almost $17 billion that had been available for at least a year.

"[W]e are increasing federal education money more quickly than states can actually spend the money," Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the education committee chairman, said in a June 29 release.

The Council of Chief State School Officers called the press release "deliberately misleading."

"Your statements ignore the budgeting practices authorized by Congress and misrepresent the quality work of our nation’s chief state school officers," wrote Ted Stilwell, the group’s president and the Iowa education director, in a June 30 letter.

Most of the unexpended dollars, he said, are already committed to pay for specific projects.

—Erik W. Robelen

Religious-School Teaching Under AmeriCorps Voided

A federal judge last week ruled that the AmeriCorps program is violating the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-established religion by providing aid for participants working as teachers in religious schools.

In a lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court in Washington by the American Jewish Congress, Judge Gladys Kessler directed the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, to stop giving grants to faith-based groups that place corps members in teaching positions in religious schools.

Two of the groups most active in such placements are the Alliance for Catholic Education, run by the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., and the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, based in Takoma Park, Md., according to court papers.

Judge Kessler held that the AmeriCorps program did not effectively enforce its rules that participants cannot count time spent on religious activities toward their annual service hours, or that grantee groups not spend AmeriCorps money on faith-related expenses. For corps members teaching in Christian schools, the judge decided, the line between religious and secular duties was "completely blurred."

—Caroline Hendrie

Bill to Make ‘No Child’ Rules Retroactive Is Clarified

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., issued a June 18 press release clarifying that a bill he has co-sponsored would not deny public school choice or supplemental educational services to children who are already making use of those options under the No Child Left Behind Act.

A day earlier, Mr. Miller and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., unveiled a bill that would make regulatory changes recently announced by the Department of Education apply retroactively. Those changes were expected to make it easier for some schools to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal law. ("Bill Would Make ‘No Child’ Flexibility Retroactive," June 23, 2004.)

Facing criticism from the Bush administration and leading Republicans, Mr. Miller’s office sought to make clear how the bill would affect children in schools that, after re- evaluation of last academic year’s progress, were technically no longer subject to the law’s school choice or supplemental-services requirements.

If a student had already transferred, the bill would require a district to continue to permit that child to remain at that school until completion of the highest grade. A student already receiving tutoring under the law when the school’s status was changed would continue to have that tutoring available through the end of the academic year.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 33

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