Senate Plan Provides Bigger Spending Boost for Federal School Aid
The Senate is on track to outbid both a House of Representatives plan and President Bush's request for education spending in fiscal 2005, while financing a couple of new programs aimed at helping states and school districts meet the mandates in the No Child Left Behind Act.
At the same time, a flexible spending pot for states and districts appears destined for either eradication or a drastic cut. The Senate bill would zero out the $297 million program, the Title V block grant, and the House version would all but do the same, chopping it down to $20 million.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a 2005 spending bill last week that would bring the Department of Education's discretionary budget to $58.8 billion, an increase of $3.2 billion, or 5.6 percent, over the current fiscal year.
It includes $100 million for a new grant program to help schools identified for improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act, and provides another $40 million for a new effort to help states with data collection under the federal law.
The bill approved by the House this month contains $30 million for data collection, but no money specifically for schools needing improvement under the law. ("House Boosts 2005 Spending on Education," Sept. 15, 2004.)
Such schools, however, also would benefit from a portion of the $1.1 billion increase to the Title I program for disadvantaged students in the Senate bill. That program would receive $13.4 billion in all.
Special education state grants would grow by $1.2 billion in the Senate bill, to $11.2 billion.
The House bill would provide increases of $1 billion apiece for Title I and special education.
Congress is working to complete a raft of spending measures for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The House on Sept. 9 overwhelmingly passed the appropriations bill for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor, though Democrats said it didn't provide enough money for education and other programs. In all, it offers a $2 billion increase for the Education Department. That's nearly $350 million above Mr. Bush's initial request, but about $1.2 billion less than in the Senate plan.
In the Senate, lawmakers used unusual budget devicesgimmicks, in the view of criticsto free up several billion dollars in extra federal aid to spread across various spending bills.
Like the House version, the Senate plan rejects at least a few of President Bush's priorities, such as his proposal to establish a $33 million enhanced Pell Grant program for low-income college students and a $40 million program to encourage non-educators to teach part time.
And neither chamber provided the $10 million Mr. Bush requested for a new program to ease educational transitions for children from military families with frequent location changes.
The White House Office of Management and Budget expressed dismay with the failure to fund those Bush priorities.
Regarding the House bill, the omb wrote: "The administration urges the House to redirect resources from the $800 million provided for lower-priority education programs to fund these important presidential initiatives."
Senate appropriators largely ignored Mr. Bush's calls to abolish a slew of education programs, including programs for arts education and dropout prevention.
The targeting of the Title V block grant, which can be used for a wide variety of K-12 purposes, in both the House and Senate versions of the spending bill has sparked concern from many state officials.
"We're very disappointed that they're robbing Peter to pay Paul," said David A. Griffith, a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education, in Alexandria, Va., "taking Title V money to boost funding for Title I . and other places."
He added: "This is a cautionary tale. This is the dark side of block grants. They don't have a specific constituency. . This was probably the most flexible program, certainly in K-12."
At the same time, Mr. Griffith said he was pleased with some other elements in the Senate bill, including the new money it would allot for data collection.
"It's not a very sexy issue," he said, "but it is absolutely critical."
No floor action was scheduled in the Senate as of late last week.
Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington lobbying coalition, said that while even the Senate bill's numbers are below the amount of spending he believes is needed, he's hopeful lawmakers will at least maintain the higher Senate levels overall.
"The Senate has given us a better bill than the House in aggregate," he said. "It's going to be a fight to retain that."
Vol. 24, Issue 04, Page 32