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Budget & Finance

Congress Mostly Snubs DeVos Agenda in Deal Increasing Education Spending

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 17, 2019 4 min read
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Federal lawmakers have struck a spending deal that would boost funding for the U.S. Department of Education to $72.8 billion in discretionary aid, a $1.3 billion increase that would include hundreds of millions of dollars more for big-ticket programs for public schools such as Title I and special education grants.

The fiscal 2020 appropriations bill, which was approved by the House on Tuesday before heading to the Senate, also includes a $550 million increase for Head Start and a $25 million increase for Preschool Development Grants. Other programs to get more money under the deal include Title IV grants for academic enrichment and student supports, English-language acquisition, and after-school programs.

Click here for a detailed chart about education programs in the spending deal for fiscal 2020.

By contrast, the bill largely ignores the Trump administration’s proposed Education Department budget, which would slash aid to the agency by about 10 percent. In fact, the spending bill continues to fund all the 29 programs the administration sought to eliminate. The spending deal also ignores Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ signature proposal, Education Freedom Scholarships, which would use federal tax credits administered by the Department of the Treasury to pay for private school costs and a host of other educational services. The Treasury Department’s budget under the deal includes no mention of new funds to administer these tax credits.

In addition, the spending bill would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other vaping products, from 18 to 21. As fellow Politics K-12 blogger Evie Blad wrote yesterday, “Raising the tobacco purchase age would help address longstanding concerns about youth smoking and an emerging epidemic that has hit schools hard.”

Current legislation that funds the federal government expires Dec. 21. The $72.8 billion in funding for the Education Department would represent a record high for the agency, although that figure doesn’t account for inflation. It also marks the third time in three spending deals under the Trump administration that lawmakers have increases Education Department funding.

Here are a few highlights from the spending deal:

  • The bill would give Title I an additional $450 million, bringing total aid to the program targeted at students from low-income backgrounds to $16.3 billion. That’s less than the $1 billion extra the House Democrats sought, but more than the GOP-backed Senate bill, which sought to keep Title I aid flat. The deal amounts to a 2.8 percent increase for Title I—compare that to the proposals from Democratic presidential candidates to triple or quadruple Title I, and you can appreciate how far apart Capitol Hill and the 2020 campaigns are on this issue. The spending bill also wouldn’t alter the underlying formulas for Title I or change what states must do to get increases in aid, something 2020 candidates have also pitched.
  • Perhaps you’ve heard about 2020 presidential candidates’ campaign for charter schools? In the spending deal, funding for the Charter Schools Program—which provides grants to help charter schools expand—would remain flat at $440 million for fiscal 2020. House Democrats wanted a $40 million cut to the program after a contentious hearing about the program with DeVos (the Trump administration sought $500 million for the grants). The Republican Senate bill sought a $20 million increase for charters.
  • The one notable win for Trump and DeVos on school choice? Lawmakers agreed to continue funding vouchers in the District of Columbia through the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, meaning it will remain the only federally funded voucher program in the country. DeVos has publicly championed the D.C. vouchers in the last few months, in addition to Education Freedom Scholarships.
  • Special education grants to states, including funding for preschool and infant and family programs, would get a $410 million boost in the deal, bringing total funding to about $13.6 billion. However, that’s still far short of the “full funding” for special education under federal law many lawmakers and presidential candidates have sought—the term refers to Washington’s obligation to pay for 40 percent of the additional costs tied to special education services in schools, a mandate it has never met.
  • Separate from the Education Department budget, the deal would provide $25 million for researching gun violence, with the money split evenly between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. It’s the first time in more than 20 years lawmakers have funded such research. Some school safety advocates have argued that such funding would help researchers study school shootings.

See a detailed chart of education programs in the fiscal 2020 deal below: