Senate Budget Panel OKs Slim Boost for Education

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After a major windfall in the federal economic-stimulus law, K-12 education would see just a modest boost in funding in fiscal 2010 under a measure approved yesterday by the U.S. Senate subcommittee that oversees education spending.

The appropriations subcommittee proposed $63.45 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in fiscal 2010, an $800 million increase over fiscal 2009. That’s just a little less than the $64.16 billion in a bill passed by the full U.S. House of Representatives last week, and the $64.18 billion in President Barack Obama’s request.

But education programs got up to $100 billion, spread out over two years, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus legislation approved in February.

The fiscal 2010 budget measure approved by the Senate panel included less money for Title I grants to districts than the program got in the current fiscal year, not counting the $10 billion for the grants over two years made available in the recovery act. The bill includes $13.8 billion for Title I grants to districts, a significant increase over the president’s request of $12.9 billion, but also a substantial cut from the fiscal 2009 level of $14.5 billion.

A bill approved by the House last week includes $14.5 billion for the grants, about the same level as for 2009.

In his budget request this spring for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, President Obama asked Congress to shift $1 billion from Title I grants to districts to the Title I school improvement grant program, which helps turn around schools struggling to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Senate subcommittee rejected that proposal. Instead, it level-funded school improvement grants at $546 million, the same amount the program got in fiscal 2009 and in the House bill. The program received $3 billion in the stimulus package.

But the Senate bill includes $700 million for school renovation grants, a perennial priority for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the subcommittee. Districts would have to compete for the grants, and then match the federal money with local dollars.

“School renovation should have been funded in the recovery act,” Sen. Harkin said. “But in the end, school renovation ended up with no money whatsoever.” The Senate’s original version of the stimulus legislation included $16 billion for school construction, but the money was stripped out to gain the support of moderate lawmakers in both parties.

Marc Egan, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, praised the inclusion of school facilities money.

“We applaud Chairman Harkin for continuing his push for school modernization,” he said.

On another provision, Mr. Egan said: “While we’re pleased the bill restores some of the proposed cut to Title I basic grants, it does not go far enough, and we hope that will change as the bill advances.”

Teacher Incentive Funding

The Senate panel’s measure doesn’t go as far as the House bill, or the president’s request, in financing the Teacher Incentive Fund, which awards pay-for-performance grants to districts on a competitive basis.

It calls for $300 million for the TIF, a substantial hike over the $97 million the program received in fiscal 2009, but not as much as the steep increase, to $487 million, sought by the Obama administration. The House bill was much closer to the administration’s request, with $445 million in all for the teacher-pay program.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., hinted that she might try to introduce an amendment to hike funding for the TIF when the bill goes to the full committee for consideration on Thursday.

“I’d like to work with you to figure out a way that we could increase funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund,” she said. Ms. Landrieu was among 10 senators who sent a letter to Sen. Harkin and other leaders on the appropriations panels last week asking for full funding of the president’s request for the TIF.

But Mr. Harkin said states could use a portion of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant program—a feature of the recovery act—to work on teacher quality. It’s unclear, though, just how many states will qualify for those competitive grants from the Department of Education.

Shifts in Reading Programs

The Senate panel’s bill would eliminate the $112 million Early Reading First program, which President Obama had sought to increase to $162 million. Instead, the measure would pump $263 million total into the Striving Readers program, which aides said would lead to a more comprehensive approach to reading, at all levels of instruction.

Right now, Striving Readers is funded at $35 million. The Senate level still isn’t as much as the president asked for. Mr. Obama wanted $370 million for Striving Readers. The House put $146 million into the program.

The Senate bill also includes $11.5 billion for special education grants to states, about the same as in fiscal 2009, the House bill, and the president’s request. Special education state grants received $11.3 billion in the stimulus bill.

Education Technology State Grants would get $100 million, the same as in the House version and the Obama budget, but a lot less than the $269 million the program got for the current fiscal year. The program received $650 million in the stimulus legislation, spread over two years.

The Senate measure would fully fund the administration’s $50 million dropout-prevention initiative. And charter schools would get $256 million, an increase of $40 million over fiscal 2009, but less than the $268 million the president wanted.

The state Safe and Drug Free Schools grant program would be eliminated, in keeping with an Obama proposal. The administration said the grants were spread too thin to be effective, but advocates say they are worried that the program’s elimination would mean that districts would lose money that they have been counting on to prepare for threats such as pandemic flu.

Vol. 28, Issue 37

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