K-12 Budget Bills Eye Modest Funding Rise

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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 budget measures being considered in both houses of Congress.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 30 approved $63.45 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, an $800 million increase over fiscal 2009.

That’s a little less than the $64.16 billion approved by the full U.S. House of Representatives July 24, and the $64.18 billion in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget request last spring.

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 spending bills would embrace one of President Obama’s priorities—a big increase for performance-pay programs—while rejecting another, the shift of money from Title I district grants to a federal school improvement program.

The president had sought to move $1 billion out of the Title I grants-to-districts program and into the Title I school improvement grant program, which helps turn around schools struggling to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

But the House rejected that proposal. It approved a measure that includes $14.5 billion for the district grants, about the same level as for fiscal 2009. The bill also includes level funding for the Title I school improvement program, which received $546 million in 2009.

The Senate measure would provide less money for Title I grants to districts than the program got this fiscal year—$13.8 billion for the coming year, down from $14.5 billion. But that’s still about 7 percent more than the president proposed for the grant program, which also is getting $10 billion over two years under the economic-stimulus law.

The Senate’s spending measure also includes $700 million for school renovation grants, a perennial priority for Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on education spending. Districts would have to compete for the grants and match the federal money with local dollars.

But advocates for school districts were dismayed by the Senate’s decision to cut back by $700 million the Title I district grants for low-income students.

“We support school construction funding; however, [superintendents] have more concerns about disadvantaged children and strongly believe that’s where the money should be going,” said Mary A. Kusler, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va.

As the bill moves forward, she said, “we should expect to see a number of amendments that will seek to restore the funding for Title I.”

Just before the House approved its version of the appropriations bill, the Obama administration released a statement saying that it was “disappointed” with lawmakers’ decision to not to provide more funding for the school improvement grants.

Teacher-Pay Debate

Funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund was also a key issue during consideration of both the House and Senate measures.

The House approved $445 million for the program. Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the program was President Obama’s highest education priority.

The administration sought $487 million for the TIF, which gives grants to school districts to create pay-for-performance programs for teachers and principals. The TIF got $200 million under the recovery act.

Supporters of the program on the Senate Appropriations Committee tried to get an additional $100 million for it by shifting money from the nearly $3 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, which help finance professional development and other programs.

The plan was ultimately rejected, by a vote of 16-13, after a lively debate that didn’t divide neatly along party-lines.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a performance-pay proponent, praised the TIF proposal.

“I find myself in the happy position of supporting the president’s top priority,” said Sen. Alexander, who served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. “I respect the president for sticking his neck out and [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan for sticking his neck out and making it a priority.”

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the proposed change would “take a significant amount of money from programs that are already supporting teachers.”

Reading Change

The Senate Appropriation Committee’s bill would eliminate the $112 million Early Reading First program, whose funding 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.

Striving Readers is now funded at $35 million; Mr. Obama wanted $370 million. The House put $146 million into the program.

The House and Senate bills also include about $11.5 billion for special education grants to states, about the same as in fiscal 2009 and in the president’s request. Special education state grants received $11.3 billion over two years in the stimulus bill. ("Stimulus Spurs Shifts of Special Education Funding," this issue.)

Educational Technology State Grants would get $100 million under both versions of the spending measure. That’s the same level as in the Obama proposal, but a lot less than the $267 million for the current fiscal year. The program received $650 million in the stimulus legislation, spread over two years. ("Guidance Issued for Technology Funds in Stimulus," this issue.)

The Senate measure also would fully fund the administration’s $50 million dropout-prevention initiative.

Vol. 28, Issue 37, Pages 20-21

Published in Print: August 12, 2009, as K-12 Budget Bills Eye Modest Funding Rise
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