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Budget & Finance

Federal Spending Bill Would Boost Education Aid, Reject Trump Choice Push

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 21, 2018 6 min read
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Lawmakers sent a message to President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in their bill to fund the federal government: We’re not the biggest fans of your big education ideas.

Congress would increase spending at the U.S. Department of Education by $2.6 billion over previously enacted levels in fiscal year 2018, up to $70.9 billion, under a new omnibus spending bill that could finally resolve a months-long logjam on Capitol Hill.

In addition, funding for Title I, the biggest pot of federal money for public schools, which is earmarked for disadvantaged students, would increase by $300 million from fiscal 2017 enacted spending, up to $15.8 billion.

The fiscal 2018 spending bill, released late Wednesday, doesn’t contain several key changes sought by Trump in his first budget plan. In fact, Trump’s budget plan for fiscal 2018 would have cut discretionary education spending by $9.2 billion. So Congress’ bill is a significant rebuke of sorts to the president’s education vision.

In fact, the spending bill leaves out a $250 million private school choice initiative the president and DeVos sought, as well as a $1 billion program designed to encourage open enrollment in districts.

Title II, which provides professional development to educators, would be flat-funded at roughly $2.1 billion. The Trump budget pitch for fiscal 2018 eliminated Title II entirely—it was the single biggest cut to K-12 Trump sought for fiscal 2018. And Title IV, a block grant for districts that can fund a diverse set of needs from school safety to ed-tech, would receive $1.1 billion, a big increase from its current funding level of $400 million. Trump also sought to eliminate Title IV.

Funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers would rise up by $20 million up to $1.2 billion; that’s another program the Trump budget proposal axed. In addition, special education grants would go up by $299 million to $13.1 billion. And federal aid to charter schools would increase to $400 million, a $58 million boost.

The bill also bars funds from the bill being used for “a reorganization that decentralizes, reduces the staffing level, or alters the responsibilities, structure, authority, or functionality of the Budget Service of the Department of Education.” DeVos has been seeking such a change as part of her effort to restructure and streamline the department.

Lawmakers also rebuffed a move by DeVos to reduce the office for civil rights’ budget by $1 million—the bill increases funding from $109 million to $117 million.

The spending agreement includes a $2.37 billion increase to the Child Care Development Block Grant, totaling $5.226 billion. And it hikes up Head Start funding by $610 million, bringing it to $9.863 billion. Meanwhile, the Preschool Development Grants, which the Trump administration sought to eliminate, were level-funded at $250 million. The program, which was created through ESSA, is a big priority for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee.

The bill also seeks $120 million for the Education Innovation and Research program or EIR, which helps test out promising practices at the district level. In its most recent budget request, the Trump administration sought to boost that program to $200 million, and fund only projects that would help bolster science, technology, engineering, and math education. Instead, the bill would set-aside a chunk of EIR funding for STEM, $50 million. The rest could go to other kinds of projects.

Congress must first pass the bill and send it to Trump for his signature before these spending levels are set. The government will shut down when Friday turns to Saturday if new spending levels for fiscal 2018 aren’t finalized by then.

Technically, the deadline for lawmakers approving appropriations legislation for this fiscal year was the start of last October. But as you’ve probably heard, Capitol Hill’s dealmaking ability on spending has been weak recently. So federal spending has limped along through a series of resolutions that have largely carried over fiscal 2017 spending.

A sign of how far behind Congress is: House lawmakers just heard from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about the president’s fiscal 2019 budget blueprint on Tuesday.

Changes to School Safety

While the bill raises overall federal school safety funding, it also shifts funds from an existing, wide-ranging school safety grant program that focuses on school environments toward the new STOP School Violence Act, which allows that funding to be used for physical security measures, like metal detectors. (The STOP Act, introduced previously in the House and Senate, is included in the omnibus bill.)

The bill takes $75 million appropriated for the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative—an existing program in the Department of Justice that funds research and implementation of a wide range of evidence-based safety programs that range from bullying prevention to innovative approaches to school policing—and redirects that funding toward programs authorized under the STOP School Violence Act.

The Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which was developed after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., emphasized evaluation to determine best practices and build an evidence base for school safety programs. The STOP School Violence Act does not include a focus on research and evaluation of the program it funds.

The bill says funding provided through the STOP School Violence Act can be used to support evidence-based programs, violence prevention efforts, and anonymous reporting systems. But it can also be used to support physical security upgrades for schools, like “metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures.”

Some school safety researchers have largely favored efforts to build safe and supportive schools over physical security measures, which they’ve said can make some students feel less safe.

Reaction Comes In

The top Senate Democrat for education, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, praised the bipartisan agreement to dismiss the “extreme ideas to privatize our nation’s public schools and dismantle the Department of Education” from DeVos.

“I’m proud to have worked with Republicans in Congress to flatly reject these ideas, and increase funding for programs Secretary DeVos tried to cut, including K-12 education, civil rights protections, college affordability, and more,” Murray said in a statement.

And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., praised the bill for including the STOP School Violence Act, as well as funding for other programs that can be use to help with school safety, such as Title IV:

Meanwhile, the Title IV-A Coalition, which backs more funding for the program, also celebrated the spending bill.

“This level of funding will allow school districts to have true flexibility in determining how to meaningfully invest in and support programs that support safe and healthy students, a well-rounded academic curriculum, and an effective educational technology program,” the group said in a statement.

Need some key spending bill information in chart form? We’ve got you covered. Check it out below:

Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer and Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.