Senate Panel OKs Small Spending Increase

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The two largest federal programs for K-12 education would see an end to the significant increases they have received in recent years, under a spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for the 2006 fiscal year.

The committee on July 14 approved $56.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The bill, approved 27-0, would provide the department with an increase of $143 million, or just 0.25 percent, over the current year.

While the Senate committee’s bill would restore funding for a host of programs President Bush proposed for elimination in his budget proposal, both the Title I program for disadvantaged students and funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would see only modest increases of $100 million each, less than a 1 percent increase per program.

“When I talk about discretionary spending, I talk about a concept of the past,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. “Today, all we look at is how far from the bone we are.”

The Senate committee also largely rejected the wishes of President Bush, who proposed in his budget to eliminate funding for 48 programs and add funding for certain new initiatives.

The committee’s proposed increase to $12.8 billion for Title I would be the smallest in eight years. The increase to $10.7 billion for special education would mark the first time in a decade that the federal share of spending for special education would drop, going from 18.6 percent of the excess costs of educating students with disabilities this year to 18 percent in 2006. Funding for those items—$13.3 billion for Title I and $12.1 billion for the IDEA—also would come in well below the amounts proposed by the president.

Technology Aid Survives

“For the first time in 10 years, the federal government will slide backward on its commitment to students with disabilities,” said Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the ranking Democrat on the education appropriations subcommittee. “I’m very concerned once again that many schools around the country … will lose Title I funding in FY 2006 at the very time that the No Child Left Behind Act is holding them to higher and higher standards.”

But holding a strict line on K-12 education’s largest programs gave Senate appropriators room to add spending elsewhere.

The bill making its way through the Senate would provide $1.3 billion for vocational and technical education, essentially keeping funding levels the same as this year’s appropriation. The Senate bill would also finance a handful of other programs proposed for scrapping in Mr. Bush’s budget, including:

  • $306.5 million for GEAR UP and $837 million for TRIO, both programs to help students from disadvantaged families pursue higher education;
  • $35.7 million for arts in education; and
  • $11 million for the Javits Gifted and Talented Education program.

The programs would be funded at similar levels as this year.

The Appropriations Committee’s bill would also provide $425 million to the Enhancing Education Through Technology program, which helps boost students’ and teachers’ technology skills.

That amount, or the $300 million proposed by the House, which passed its education appropriations bill on June 24, would save the program Mr. Bush wants to eliminate, following a 27 percent cut to the program in 2005. Those setbacks shocked into action a coalition of education groups that lobbied for school technology for many years, but let its guard down in 2004.

“We learned not to assume victory until you have it,” said Don Knezek, the executive director of the International Society for Technology in Education, in Eugene, Ore.

Mary Kusler, a senior legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators, said that while she was pleased the Senate proposal would restore funding for some programs “the spreading-out of money essentially ends up hurting programs rather than helping,” she said.

“The federal formula programs benefit all districts, and yet those are the ones being cut or receiving dismal increases,” she said.

Some programs would take a significant hit under the Senate committee’s bill, including the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, which would face a cut of $137 million, or 31 percent, from this year’s appropriation of $437 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, like its counterpart in the House, also ignored President Bush’s request for $1.2 billion in new money for his high school initiative, which would bolster teacher training and learning plans for incoming 9th graders, among other goals, and $250 million for expanded high school testing. Unlike the House, which proposes $100 million for the president’s Teacher Incentive Fund, the Senate bill does not provide any money for it.

Reading First

The president got only a slight nod from the Senate committee when it came to reading. Mr. Bush had requested $200 million for his Striving Readers program. The House would provide $30 million, while the Senate bill would provide $35 million.

Money for Reading First—the main federal initiative in the subject—would stay flat under both the House and the Senate proposals, at just over $1 billion.

The Senate bill includes language addressing persistent complaints that the Reading First program has gone too far in restricting the selection of reading materials for participating schools. The Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation, for example, filed a complaint with the Education Department’s inspector general, citing pressure some schools said they felt to discontinue the curriculum in order to win Reading First funds. ("Complaint Filed Against Reading Initiative," June 22, 2005.)

The bill directs the Education Department to provide clear guidance to Reading First Technical Assistance Centers and to states that there is no “approved” list of programs for grant recipients, and that decisions on reading materials are to be made at the school level, subject to state approval.

Vol. 24, Issue 43, Pages 32, 34

Published in Print: July 27, 2005, as Senate Panel OKs Small Spending Increase
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