Published Online: December 15, 2009

Congress OKs Budget With Increase for Education

Congress last week approved a fiscal year 2010 spending measure that would provide level funding for key education programs, even as lawmakers and the Obama administration weighed the prospect of a jobs package that could include new education aid for cash-strapped states and localities.

A House-Senate conference committee Dec. 8 agreed to a bill that would finance programs in the U.S. Department of Education at about $63.7 billion, a 2 percent increase over fiscal 2009, but a 0.7 percent decrease over the president’s request of $64.2 billion.

The House of Representatives voted 221-202 on Dec. 9 to pass the bill. The Senate approved the measure on Dec. 13, 57-35.

Those figures don’t include up to $100 billion in education spending in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus program, which covers fiscal 2009 and 2010.

The House-Senate compromise includes $14.5 billion for Title I grants to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students, about the same level as fiscal 2009.

That’s a shift from both the president’s fiscal 2010 education budget request and the version of the fiscal 2010 spending bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee in July. ("Senate Panel Rejects Bid to Further Boost TIF," July 29, 2009.)

President Barack Obama’s budget would have cut Title I grants to districts by $1.5 billion and, instead, steered $1 billion to Title I School Improvement Grants. Those grants are aimed at helping states and districts turn around schools struggling to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

But lawmakers rejected that plan. Instead, the Title I grant program, which received $3 billion in fiscal 2010 through the stimulus, would be level-funded in the appropriations bill at $546 million.

“We are definitely excited and appreciative for the restoration of Title I,” said Mary E. Kusler, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va.

The conference committee also rejected a Senate proposal to create a $700 million new grant program for school facilities. Instead, lawmakers may use a pending bill that would reshape the federal student-lending system as an opportunity to provide some funding for school facilities. ("Proposed College-Loan Savings Would Aid Early Ed.," Aug. 12, 2009.) Various Programs Among other highlights, the spending measure would:

• Finance Striving Readers, a secondary school literacy program, at $250 million. Instead of just serving adolescents, the program would be comprehensive, covering prekindergarten through 12th grade.

• Allot $11.5 billion for state grants to help states educate students in special education, the same level as in fiscal 2009. The stimulus included $11.3 billion over two years for that program.

• Provide $400 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants for performance-pay programs. That’s less than the $487 million the administration wanted, but a huge boost over the $97 million the program got last year.

• Put $256 million into charter schools—less than the president’s request of $268 million, but still a $40 million increase over last year—and $50 million for a new initiative to help raise high school graduation rates.

• Direct $10 million to a new Promise Neighborhood initiative to help programs modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, which pairs academics with extensive supports, such as health services, prekindergarten, after-school programs, and college counseling.

Finally, the measure would include a technical change sought by the Education Department to widen eligibility for the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund created under the stimulus program.

Originally, the grants were limited by the economic-stimulus law to those districts that make adequate yearly progress under NCLB for the previous two consecutive years.

Under the change, districts that have demonstrated success in raising student achievement could win a grant.

New Aid Package?

Meanwhile, President Obama’s Dec. 9 speech suggesting that new legislation could provide fresh funding for the nation’s infrastructure has some education advocates hoping that the package could include funding for school facilities.

But it isn’t clear just yet how much, if any, aid in a potential jobs package would be steered toward K-12 education or to avert teacher layoffs.

“States are required to balance their budgets, and may have to lay off public-sector employees,” including teachers, in order to do that without more help from the federal government, said Chad Stone, the chief economist with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank in Washington.

For now, education organizations are flagging what they want to see in the potential jobs package. For instance, the 3.2 million-member National Education Association sent a Dec. 3 letter to members of the House of Representatives asking that they consider including an education jobs fund in the new legislation.

The union is also seeking money for school facilities or an extension of school construction tax credits, additional Title I grants for districts, and special education money.

Vol. 29, Issue 16

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