Published Online: July 10, 2009

Teacher Incentive Hike Survives in Key House Panel

A key House panel today took action on the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal 2010 budget, approving a plan that embraces one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities: providing a big increase for a program that rewards effective teachers.

But the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education rejected the president’s call to triple spending for a program aimed at helping to turn around low-performing schools.

Overall, under the budget package, the department would receive $64.7 billion in discretionary funding in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, an increase of $1.2 billion, or 1.8 percent, over the current year­—excluding the massive influx of federal aid included in the economic-stimulus measure enacted in February.

The budget total approved by a voice vote of the panel is about what President Obama requested, according to subcommittee materials, though it does not reflect his proposal to shift Pell Grants for low-income college students to the mandatory side of the budget. The subcommittee bill matches President Obama’s request to increase the maximum Pell grant award to $5,500, an increase of $200 per grant.

(Even factoring in the Pell Grant shift, the total spending request listed in the subcommittee summary documentRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader differs slightly from that provided by the Education Department because of differences in how the figures are calculated.)

“This bill is fiscally responsible and makes hard choices among competing priorities,” Rep. David R. Obey, the chairman of the subcommittee, said in discussing the billRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Although the panel’s Republicans did not vote against the bill, the Appropriations Committee’s ranking minority member raised some concerns about it in a press release.

“Already this year, Democratic proposals have put our country into more than a trillion dollars worth of debt—not including interest,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California.

“There are some good programs in this bill that deserve to be funded,” he added, but he contended that Democrats are failing to make the “tough decisions” on spending priorities that are needed to ensure long-term fiscal sustainability.

TIF Increase Survives

At press time, only limited details on the subcommittee’s spending measure for the Education Department were available.

The bill as approved by the House panel would provide $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, more than quadrupling the $97 million provided this fiscal year and close to meeting President Obama’s request of $487 million. That would be in addition the $200 million provided for the program under the stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The result may come as something of a surprise, given that during a recent hearing before the subcommittee, Rep. Obey expressed some skepticism about the program’s effectiveness. ("Key Democrats Question Parts of Obama Budget," June 10, 2009.)

The spending plan meets the president’s call to include $50 million for a new high school graduation initiative, and would match his request of $11.5 billion for special education state grants, which is the same amount as provided in the fiscal 2009 budget, not counting stimulus dollars.

However, the panel rejected a bid by Mr. Obama to shift $1.5 billion of Title I aid to districts into two other programs. He has proposed to roughly triple the $545 million Title I school improvement grants program and wants to create a new, $500 million Title I Early Childhood Grants program.

Instead, the subcommittee bill would maintain Title I grants to districts at $14.5 billion, the same level as appropriated for the current fiscal year, not including stimulus aid.

“We’re delighted that Chairman Obey did not go along with the president’s proposed cut in Title I funding,” said Mary A. Kusler, the assistant director for advocacy and policy at the American Association of School Administrators. “That sends an important signal.”

In other areas, according to materials provided by the subcommittee, the bill would provide more than $400 million for “new approaches to improving reading instruction in our schools”; $10 million for a new Promise Neighborhoods program Mr. Obama has proposed to support communitywide approaches to lifting children out of poverty; and $156 million for charter school grants, well below the $268 million the president requested.

The next step for the House bill is consideration by the full House Appropriations Committee, but at press time no date had been set.

Vol. 28, Issue 36

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