Final 2007 Budget Has Small Increase for Education

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The Department of Education’s bottom line will grow for the first time after two years of stagnant funding, under a long-overdue spending measure that received final approval in Congress and from President Bush last week.

The spending bill, which the Senate passed by a vote of 81-15 on Feb. 14, will provide $57.5 billion for the department in fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1. That is a 1.7 percent increase over the $56.5 billion approved for fiscal 2006, excluding extra money in that year’s budget for students and schools affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The amount approved by Congress is a 5.7 percent increase over President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget request of $54.4 billion for Education Department discretionary spending. The House approved the measure on Jan. 31. The president signed the bill on Feb. 15.

Congress seldom completes all of its appropriations legislation before the Oct. 1 deadline, but the departing, Republican-controlled 109th Congress took the unusual step of extending nearly all of its spending bills until this month, leaving the new, Democratic-led Congress to finish them.

Rather than spending time crafting entirely new bills for fiscal 2007, the Appropriations Committee chairmen in both chambers, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., decided to simply extend funding for most federal programs—including most of those in the Education Department—at fiscal 2006 levels.

Still, in part by eliminating earmarks—special projects requested by individual lawmakers—the plan by the two chairmen would boost spending for some key education programs.

The measure includes a long-sought hike for Title I grants to districts. The bill increases the grants, which go to serve disadvantaged students, by $125 million, a nearly 1 percent increase over fiscal 2006, for a total of $12.8 billion. President Bush’s fiscal 2008 budget request, unveiled earlier this month, would increase Title I funding to $13.9 billion next year, but the extra $1.2 billion would be dedicated to helping high schools offer additional assessments under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The fiscal 2007 measure provides $125 million for a School Improvement Fund to help struggling schools improve instruction. The fund was authorized under the 5-year-old NCLB law, but has never received any appropriations. The president’s fiscal 2008 budget proposes $500 million for the fund.

The bill adopted last week also provides $10.8 billion for grants to help states cover the cost of educating students in special education, authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That’s a $200 million, or 1.9 percent, increase, over the fiscal 2006 level of $10.6 billion.

Future of Teacher Fund

But the measure contains only $200,000 for the year-old Teacher Incentive Fund, which gives grants to school districts to help them create pay-for-performance and teacher-improvement programs.

The program is a signature Bush administration initiative that has faced criticism from both national teachers’ unions. It received $99 million in fiscal 2006.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., planned to introduce an amendment that would have maintained the $99 million amount for the fund this year. But because of a procedural vote prohibiting any significant changes to the spending measure, the Senate did not consider Mr. Alexander’s proposal.

Still, Mr. Alexander, a former U.S. secretary of education, took to the floor of the Senate and excoriated the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. He accused the union of “kill[ing]” the fund. He said he had received a letter from the NEA, apparently sent to all members of the Senate, urging him to reject the Teacher Incentive Fund amendment.

“So the NEA, in its brilliance, has written me a letter to ask me to vote against my own amendment,” Sen. Alexander said in the Feb. 13 speech. “I want the world to know what they are against. What they are against is helping find a fair way to pay good teachers more for teaching well and to train and help good principals lead schools.”

Joel Packer, the union’s chief NCLB lobbyist, said the NEA doesn’t support the fund because it diverts resources from other federal teacher-improvement programs, such as grants to the states for improving teacher quality, which would receive nearly $2.9 billion under the fiscal 20007 spending measure adopted last week.

“We don’t think there’s a need [for the Teacher Incentive Fund],” Mr. Packer said. “We were disappointed when Congress created it in the first place.”

Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 26

Published in Print: February 21, 2007, as Final 2007 Budget Has Small Increase for Education
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