Senate OKs Modest K-12 Spending Boost
Conference committee to hammer out 2006 budget.
The Senate approved a spending bill last week that would provide only minimal increases for Title I and special education, the two largest federal K-12 education programs.
Though a flurry of unsuccessful amendments by Democrats sought to increase funding for those and other programs, Republicans held the bottom line on an appropriations bill that includes $56.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education for the 2006 federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The bill, approved Oct. 27 on a 94-3 vote, contains an increase for education of only $143 million, or 0.25 percent, over fiscal 2005.
The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill contains a $100 million increase to the Title I program for disadvantaged students, to $12.8 billion, which if adopted would make it the smallest increase for the program in eight years. The bill also includes a $100 million increase, to $10.7 billion, for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The amounts for each program would constitute an increase of less than 1 percent.
Critics say the failure to put more money toward those two programs, in particular, comes at a time when the federal No Child Left Behind Act is putting pressure on Title I and the IDEA to help children meet education goals.
The House has approved similar spending levels for Title I and special education in its education appropriations bill, approved June 24. Now the House and the Senate must iron out the differences between the two bills in a conference committee in the coming weeks.
In the Senate last week, Democrats railed against the proposed funding levels, saying they fell short of authorized spending levels. An amendment by Sen. Robert W. Byrd, D-W.Va., would have increased Title I funding by an additional $5 billion over the GOP plan.
Sen. Byrd condemned what he called broken educational promises through a lack of funding and said that “there is no better example of that broken promise than the Title I program.”
But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, said “authorization is always higher than the appropriation.” The amendment was defeated, 51-44.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., sought to increase money for special education with an amendment that would have given the program a $4 billion boost.
“This amendment is particularly critical today because the cost of special education has increased substantially,” Sen. Clinton said on the floor. “Now more than ever, we need to invest in the education of children with special needs.”
That amendment, too, was defeated, 53-46.
Living on a Budget
Other failed Democratic amendments included one by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., to increase funding to the Head Start preschool program and one by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the ranking minority member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, to increase the maximum annual Pell Grant by $200, to $4,250.
Sen. Specter lamented the budget constraints and said many education programs were worthy of increased funding.
As a backdrop to last week’s spending bill, both the House and the Senate are moving through a budget-reconciliation process, making cuts to mandatory spending programs in order to reduce the deficit and fund hurricane aid. In education, the proposed cuts have mainly involved the federal student-loan program.
“One of the great difficulties of managing this bill is opposing amendments like these which are really very good,” Sen. Specter said. “I wish we had more of an allocation.”
A Republican attempt at an across-the-board cut to help pay for heating costs for the poor this winter also failed. An amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., would have cut 1 percent from the education budget to increase spending on a program that helps pay fuel-costs for low-income families.
The spending bill approved on the Senate floor includes few changes from the one approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 14.
It approved funding for several programs that President Bush suggested scrapping in his budget proposal. The Senate bill includes $1.3 billion for vocational and technical education; $306.5 million for GEAR UP and $837 million for TRIO, both programs to help students from disadvantaged families pursue higher education; and $425 million for the Enhancing Education through Technology program, which helps boost students’ and teachers’ technology skills.
The Senate ignored President Bush’s requests stemming from his high school initiative, which included intervention plans for incoming 9th graders who are not learning at grade level and for a teacher-incentive fund to give financial boosts to effective teachers. The Senate bill provides no money for either of those programs.
Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying group, said he was relieved that the Senate didn’t cut the education budget further, but he was disappointed that senators didn’t support the amendments that would have increased education spending.
The Senate’s spending bill is “grossly inadequate,” he said. And the threat of more cuts continues in the conference committee.
“The end game,” Mr. Kealy said, “is not looking good for education.”
Vol. 25, Issue 10, Pages 24,26