Senate Backs Additional Hurricane Aid for Schools
States and school districts that opened their doors to students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are anxiously watching the fate of $650 million in a potential second round of federal aid to cover the costs of educating such students.
The Senate approved the money on May 4 as part of a larger, $109 billion emergency-spending bill to fund the Iraq war and Gulf Coast recovery, on a vote of 78-20. But the prospect of the hurricane-relief funding is far from certain because the House of Representatives did not include extra aid for displaced students in its version of the legislation.
The House measure, approved in March, will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill in a conference committee.
Congress already authorized “impact aid” to cover the costs of educating displaced students when it passed the Hurricane Education Recovery Act in December. That legislation authorized up to $6,000 for each general education student and $7,500 for students in special education. But the $645 million appropriated for the program was only enough to give schools about $4,000 per student, which many educators say falls short of their full costs.
The Senate measure would provide $300 million in additional impact aid for the 2005-06 school year, which lawmakers say would allow states to receive the anticipated $6,000 per student for this year.
But House members, whose supplemental Iraq and hurricane-recovery bill totals about $92 billion, want to ensure that the measure does not cost more than the $94 billion requested by President Bush, who has threatened to veto the legislation if it becomes too costly. That sentiment could jeopardize programs added by the Senate, including the additional impact aid for schools.
The Senate bill would also provide an additional $350 million for the first semester of the 2006-07 school year, based on a head count of students still displaced around Oct. 1. Only states with the highest concentration of displaced students would be eligible for the funding. That list is likely to include at least Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, whose home state initially took in more than 46,000 students and expects about 30,000 to remain next year, said in an interview last week that President Bush assured him privately he would support at least the additional $300 million in extra funding proposed for this school year.
Rep. Brady also said he had “very positive” discussions with House leaders on the issue. But he added that the money for next school year is less certain.
A White House spokeswoman could not confirm the conversation with Mr. Brady, and a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., did not return phone calls before deadline.
Steve Forde, a spokesman for Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that in weighing the extra aid for schools, House Republicans would be balancing the desire for fiscal restraint “with ensuring that schools were provided the money at the federal level that they were promised last year.”
He noted that in some cases, not all of the impact aid already approved has yet flowed to schools.
“It’s important to have a better grasp of what money is already in the pipeline and potentially caught up at the state level before jumping headfirst into a commitment on new money,” Mr. Forde said.
Even if the additional money for the current school year is included, Rep. Brady said securing impact aid for next year could be an uphill battle, since lawmakers made clear when passing the initial legislation that the hurricane relief for schools was meant to be a one-year program.
“At least in the House, there’s no consensus on how to treat that second year,” Rep. Brady said.
But advocates for states say there is no question the money will be needed come September.
“More students were displaced than anticipated and will stay displaced longer than anticipated,” said Joan E. Wodiska, the director of the education, early-childhood, and workforce committee at the National Governors Association in Washington.
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