House Panel Rejects Some Bush Budget Items

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A House subcommittee voted last week to cut discretionary funding for the Department of Education slightly next fiscal year, but its plan would partially pay for some proposals in President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative.

The fiscal 2007 budget plan, which was approved June 7 on a 9-7 party-line vote by the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, would trim $5.5 billion in spending from this year’s $64.6 billion, for a total of $59 billion, according to the committee’s Republican staff. That would represent a 3.2 percent boost over the $57.2 billion President Bush requested in his budget blueprint, released in February.

“I think the more and more you read the literature, the more you realize we’re facing an increasingly competitive world,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, the subcommittee’s chairman. The panel voted to bolster Advanced Placement programs, as the president had requested, but provided only $80 million, instead of the $122 million the administration sought.

Budget Matters

A House appropriations subcommittee last week approved $58.99 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Final Fiscal 2006 President’S FY 2007 Request Subcommittee FY 2007 Funding
Title I grants to districts $12.7 billion $12.7 billion $12.7 billion
IDEA grants to states 11.4 million 11.5 billion 11.55 billion
High school reform 0 1.4 billion 0
Vocational education 1.3 billion 0 1.3 billion
Advanced Placement 32 million 122 million 80 million

Lawmakers ignored the proposed $250 million Math Now program, which the administration envisioned as shoring up mathematics instruction in elementary and middle schools. Instead, the panel added $42.3 million to the existing Math and Science Partnership program, which fosters cooperation between businesses and schools to design curricula and train teachers. The portion of that program administered by the Education Department received $182 million in fiscal 2006.

The measure would maintain the current amount of funding for the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act, the $12.7 billion Title I program, which provides grants to schools serving students from low-income families.

The plan would provide a $200 million fund to help struggling schools meet the law’s standards. That money was originally authorized under the 4-year-old law, but was never appropriated.

But the bill would cut $300 million in funding for state grants to improve teacher quality. The money can be used to finance professional development, mentoring, recruiting, and merit-based-pay programs, among other activities. The grant program received $2.8 billion in fiscal 2006 and Mr. Bush proposed the same amount. The bill provides $99 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, created last year to help states establish pay-for-performance programs.

Advocates for teachers said the decision to put money in the new fund takes authority away from districts by putting money toward a narrowly tailored program, instead of a flexible funding source

“That’s just completely backwards,” said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the 2.7 million-member National Education Association. He said $300 million is a “pretty significant cut at a time when Secretary [Margaret] Spellings has said that no state, zero, none, was going to meet the NCLB [highly-qualified-teacher] requirement by the end of this school year.”

Supplemental Spending

Rep. Regula touted a $150 million increase beyond Mr. Bush’s request for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which would receive $11.55 billion under the subcommittee’s measure. But the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, said that increase would be insufficient to meet the needs of an expanding population of students in special education. He said that, despite the extra money, states would have to pick a greater share of the tab for the program.

The measure would eliminate a number of programs, including the Enhancing Education Through Technology initiative, which gives money to school districts for a broad array of technology-enrichment purposes. The program, which President Bush slated for elimination in his budget, received $272 million for the current fiscal year.

“The explanation is that there’s enough technology in schools,” said Mary Ann Wolf, the executive director of the State Education Technology Directors Association, based in Arlington, Va. But she said such reasoning discounts the program’s other uses, which include providing online professional development for teachers.

Education advocates saw at least one bright spot in the bill: a proposal that would raise the maximum Pell Grant by $100, bringing it to $4,150. Still, in a statement released at the subcommittee meeting, panel Democrats argued that the increase would not keep pace with mounting tuition costs. They estimated that the grants would need to increase by at least $350 this year, just to maintain their purchasing power.

Meanwhile, a House-Senate conference committee worked last week to hammer out an emergency-spending bill for fiscal 2006 that would include $235 million for this school year in additional aid for districts educating students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

An additional $350 million for next school year approved by the Senate in its version of the supplemental-spending measure did not make it into the conference report. Each chamber will have to approve the conference version of the emergency-spending bill. Votes on it could occur as early as this week.

Vol. 25, Issue 40, Page 21

Published in Print: June 14, 2006, as House Panel Rejects Some Bush Budget Items
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