Stimulus Bill Clears House With School Aid Intact
School districts, colleges, and early-childhood programs would receive some $125 billion in one-time emergency aid under legislation aimed at jump-starting the sluggish economy that is headed for the U.S. Senate after a surprisingly partisan vote in the House yesterday.
The $819 billion measure, approved on a 244-188 House vote with Republicans unanimous in opposition, has attracted criticism from the GOP—and privately from some Democrats—for spending billions of dollars on Democratic favorites such as education despite questions as to whether the projects would really put people to work.
But President Barack Obama hailed his recovery plan, saying it would “save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years.”
During Senate debate next week, the measure is expected to pick up at least some GOP support. But President Obama’s hopes of changing Washington’s partisan culture have gone unmet so far despite the popular president’s separate high-profile meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with House and Senate Republicans.
Those tensions were in evidence earlier this week when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the $365 billion spending portion of the measure by a vote of 21-9. Some moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, crossed over to vote with the Democrats.
During the Jan. 27 markup, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the committee’s chairman, sought to alleviate concerns expressed by some congressional Republicans that it would be tough to scale back the record increases in the bill for programs, including special education and Title I aid for underprivileged children, after the economic outlook brightens.
“The funding provided here is targeted,” Sen. Inouye said. “Increases for programs as varied as food stamps, loan guarantees, and education, for example, are being made available with the clear understanding that the level of resources provided in this measure are to respond to this crisis and will not be sustained in the future.”
But on a day when President Barack Obama made an unusual presidential visit to Capitol Hill to talk with Republicans on behalf of the stimulus package, a number of GOP lawmakers argued that the bill would add to the federal deficit without providing an immediate jolt to the economy.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a deficit hawk and the former chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, contended that the bill doesn’t do enough to quickly spur economic growth.
“My main concern with this bill is that so much of it is not structured around creating stimulus for the immediate future,” Sen. Gregg said. “Stimulus bills need to be targeted and they need to be temporary. … [This bill] builds dramatically the baseline of the government, which I think is going to be a problem for President Obama” in the future.
Increased Education Aid
Like the House version, the Senate bill would provide an extra $13 billion spread over fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for Title I grants and for students in special education. The Title I program received about $13.9 billion in fiscal 2008, while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which governs special education, received $10.9 billion.
And, as in the House version, $39 billion in local and state aid would be provided to help schools and colleges avert layoffs and programmatic cuts. There would also be $15 billion for incentive grants for states that met certain performance measures.
Another $25 billion in state and local aid would be more flexible. It could be used for state and local priorities, such as public safety, but could also go to support schools and colleges.
The Senate bill also includes one-time provisions on “maintenance of effort,” the requirement that states provide a certain amount of their own funding for programs based on past years’ allocations. The one-time provisions are intended to give states and districts additional flexibility on how to spend the education funds, Democratic congressional staff members say.
The Senate bill also includes $16 billion to repair, renovate, and construct public schools to make them more energy efficient and expand access to information technology. That’s a little more than the $14 billion in the House measure. The measure would also appropriate $1 billion for education technology, such as classroom computers.
The bill would allocate $100 million for the Teacher Quality Enhancement grants, which help foster partnerships between districts and teachers’ colleges to train new educators. The House bill would provide the same amount for that program, but would also provide $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants to districts to develop alternative pay programs. The Senate bill does not include new money for the TIF.
The Senate measure also would appropriate $2.1 billion for the Head Start preschool program and $2 billion for the child-care development block grant.
Though President Obama voiced optimism after meeting with congressional Republicans about the stimulus package, it appears he still has plenty of work to do in that area.
Earlier this week, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, lambasted the education provisions in the House bill, saying that much of the money is directed to favored Democratic constituencies, not to economic relief.
“American workers, families, and businesses desperately need an economic-stimulus package. Unfortunately, that’s not what congressional Democrats are offering,” said Rep. McKeon. “Instead, their package is nothing more than a mega-sized supplemental spending bill that will saddle future generations with almost unimaginable debt.”
Vol. 28, Issue 20