Published Online: July 31, 2009

Senate Panel Rejects Bid to Further Boost TIF

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee turned back a bipartisan effort Thursday to increase funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund by an extra $100 million, after overwhelmingly approving a bill for financing the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal 2010.

Without the amendment, the bill included $300 million for the TIF, a teacher-performance-pay program that is currently funded at $97 million. The Obama administration had asked for $487 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund in its fiscal 2010 budget request, and the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved $445 million for the program.

The spending measure approved 29-1 by the Senate committee would provide $63.45 billion for the Education Department in fiscal 2010, an increase of $800 million over fiscal 2009. Though that increase would be modest, the department received an extra, unprecedented boost of up to $100 billion over two years in the federal economic-stimulus package.

The proposed increase in the TIF program would have been paid for by taking $100 million out of the federal State Grants for Improving Teacher Quality program. The amendment went down by 16-13, with both Republicans and Democrats on the committee divided over the measure.

The defeat came despite an assertion from the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., that the TIF is President Barack Obama’s highest priority. She said she expected the amendment to be noncontroversial and pass on a quick voice vote.

But other lawmakers expressed qualms about the program, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“This amendment will take a significant amount of money from programs that are already supporting teachers,” Sen. Murray said. “I know my state will lose $1.6 million with [this amendment].” She added that lawmakers should take a closer look “before we add another $100 million to this program, which has never been authorized.”

Conceived by the Bush administration and established by a 2006 appropriations bill, the TIF program has among its goals increasing the number of effective teachers in low-performing schools and improving student achievement.

‘A Lot More Thought’

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a performance-pay proponent, said the committee should invite Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to testify on the TIF program’s effectiveness.

“I find myself in the happy position of supporting the president’s top priority,” said Sen. Alexander, who served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. “I respect the president for sticking his neck out and Secretary Duncan for sticking his neck out and making it a priority.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing education spending and a supporter of the proposal, said the measure’s requirement of collaboration with educators on pay plans had helped alleviate his own “qualms” about the program.

Such collaboration “hasn’t always happened in the past, and this bill makes sure it does,” he said.

Still, other members, including Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., expressed concern about taking money from what they called a proven, formula-driven program and putting it into the TIF, which they described as new and relatively untested.

“It seems to me this ought to be done with a lot more thought,” Sen. Dorgan said.

Marc Egan, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, said the nation’s largest teachers’ union was “very thrilled with the vote.” He said the union would have had difficulties with any amendment that sought to shift money from other education programs and put it in the TIF, because, given the trying economic times, “there are a lot more pressing needs.”

TRIO Programs at Issue

Addressing the spending measure as a whole, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, an influential Republican moderate, said Thursday that she was disappointed with the flat funding for the TRIO programs, which help prepare first-generation and disadvantaged students for college. She said she’d work with Sen. Harkin to raise funding for the program further down the road in the budget process.

Under the bill approved by the Appropriations Committee, the TRIO programs would be financed at $848 million, the same amount as in fiscal 2009 and the same level the administration requested. The House bill included $868 million for the program.

The Senate committee’s $63.45 billion appropriation for the Education Department for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, is just a little less than the $64.16 billion in the spending bill passed by the full House last week, and the $64.18 billion in President Obama’s request.

But education programs got up to $100 billion, spread out over two years, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus legislation approved in February.

Title I Shifts

The fiscal 2010 budget measure approved by the Senate panel included less money for Title I grants to districts than the program got in the current fiscal year, not counting the $10 billion for the grants over two years made available in the recovery act. The bill includes $13.8 billion for Title I grants to districts, a significant increase over the president’s request of $12.9 billion, but also a substantial cut from the fiscal 2009 level of $14.5 billion.

The bill approved by the House last week includes $14.5 billion for the grants, about the same level as for 2009.

In his budget request this spring for fiscal 2010, President Obama asked Congress to shift $1 billion from Title I grants to districts to the Title I school improvement grant program, which helps turn around schools struggling to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Senate committee rejected that proposal. Instead, it level-funded school improvement grants at $546 million, the same amount the program got in fiscal 2009 and in the House bill. The program received $3 billion in the stimulus package.

But the Senate bill includes $700 million for school renovation grants, a perennial priority for Sen. Harkin. Districts would have to compete for the grants, and then match the federal money with local dollars.

The Senate committee’s bill would eliminate the $112 million Early Reading First program, whose funding President Obama had sought to increase to $162 million.

Instead, the measure would pump a total of $263 million into the Striving Readers program, which aides said would lead to a more comprehensive approach to reading, at all levels of instruction. Right now, Striving Readers is funded at $35 million.

The Senate committee’s level still isn’t as much as the president asked for; Mr. Obama wanted $370 million for Striving Readers. The House put $146 million into the program.

Spec. Ed. Grants Hold Steady

The Senate bill also includes $11.5 billion for special education grants to states, about the same as in fiscal 2009, the House bill, and the president’s request. Special education state grants received $11.3 billion in the stimulus bill.

Education Technology State Grants would get $100 million, the same as in the House version and the Obama budget, but a lot less than the $269 million the program got for the current fiscal year. The program received $650 million in the stimulus legislation, spread over two years.

The Senate measure would fully fund the administration’s $50 million dropout-prevention initiative. And charter schools would get $256 million, an increase of $40 million over fiscal 2009, but less than the $268 million the president wanted.

The state Safe and Drug Free Schools grant program would be eliminated, in keeping with an Obama proposal. The administration said the grants were spread too thin to be effective, but advocates say they are worried that the program’s elimination would mean that districts would lose money that they have been counting on to prepare for threats such as pandemic flu.

Vol. 28, Issue 37

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