The Department of Education will receive the largest-ever increase to its annual budget as part of a fiscal 2001 spending package approved by Congress Dec. 15 and awaiting President Clinton’s expected signature.
The agreement, which came 2½ months after the budget year began Oct. 1, hands the department an additional $6.5 billion for discretionary programs, for a total of $42.1 billion.
“First and foremost, this budget tops eight years of commitment to education with a dramatic new investment in our nation’s schools,” President Clinton said in a statement the day the measure was adopted.
The president succeeded in securing first-time money for a school renovation program, as well as increases for federal class-size-reduction and after-school programs. After-school funding will nearly double, to $846 million, in fiscal 2001.
A key accomplishment for congressional Republicans was stepping up federal aid for special education costs. State grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act rose by nearly $1.4 billion, to $6.3 billion.
“Most importantly, I am pleased this bill contains a substantial increase in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the retiring chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. “For many years, I have said that Congress must give priority to assisting children with disabilities.”
Working in a lame-duck session after the November elections, Congress approved the education budget as part of an omnibus appropriations package that combined three outstanding spending bills covering several departments and agencies, the White House, and Congress itself. The House passed the bill 292-60, and the Senate passed it by voice vote. “It has been a long, difficult process, but in the end we believe we’ve struck a responsible balance between increasing funding for such priorities as education and medical research, without overburdening the American taxpayer,” the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said a day before Congress approved the plan.
The Education Department total is about $1.5 billion less than was contained in an agreement reached between congressional appropriators and the White House before the Nov. 7 elections. That deal was scuttled by Republican leaders, who cited a measure on workplace safety that was unrelated to education. But after the elections, leading Republicans made clear they also objected to the spending totals in the agreement.
Even so, the final agreement provides $2 billion more for the Education Department than Mr. Clinton originally requested. Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association, said he was disappointed that Congress did not stick to the earlier deal, but he noted that the increase was still far more than in any previous year. He added that Congress and the White House were “fair” in deciding where to make needed cuts. Negotiators also agreed to a .22 percent across-the-board cut (totalling $1 billion) in all federal discretionary spending, excluding the $108.9 billion set aside for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
Some notable budget items in the final agreement include:
- $8.6 billion for Title I grants to districts, up from $7.9 billion;
- $1.6 billion for class-size reduction, up from $1.3 billion;
- $994 million for impact aid, which helps school districts where the presence of federal installations reduces the local property-tax base. The program received $907 million in fiscal 2000; and
- An increase in the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income college students, from $3,300 to $3,750.
The Head Start program for preschoolers, which is run by the Department Health and Human Services, will also see a sizable budget increase, nearly $1 billion, for a total of $6.2 billion. President-elect Bush pledged during his campaign to move that program to the Education Department and to seek to increase its emphasis on early learning.
The spending package also delves into policy matters, making changes to certain existing programs and creating new ones. For example, the agreement will provide more flexibility under the class-size-reduction program. Current law allows districts with at least 10 percent of teachers who are not fully certified to spend all their program funds on professional development if granted a waiver by the Education Department or, in some cases, the state. Such a waiver is no longer needed for districts under the agreement. And schools and libraries will now be required to implement Internet filtering technology for computers as a condition of participating in the federal E-rate program or receiving certain federal technology funds.
The new emergency-school-repair program will receive $900 million. The money will go to high-need school districts through a competitive-grant program. An additional $300 million will be available either for special education costs or for school renovation projects related to education technology.
But Mr. Clinton failed to persuade Republican leaders to include tax measures—based on a proposal championed by Reps. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn.—that would subsidize about $25 billion in school construction bonds.
The agreement will also reauthorize the federal Even Start program, a family-literacy initiative championed by Rep. Goodling. Congress had planned to include that program in a larger bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but deliberations for that legislation broke down earlier in the year. The budget also contains a measure allowing small, rural districts to combine money from a variety of federal education programs and another to help schools expand and improve physical education programs.
Mr. Packer of the NEA said he would prefer that policy changes like those were not made during last-minute appropriations negotiations.
“It’s definitely not the best way to make policy,” he said, noting that such decisions often end up being made behind closed doors rather than through formal committee hearings and amendments on the floor. “But sometimes it becomes the only process.”