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Education Funding

Biden Pitches 41 Percent Spending Increase for Education Next Year on Top of COVID-19 Aid

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 09, 2021 4 min read
Conceptual image of money, a mask, and the American flag.

President Joe Biden is proposing major spending increases for the U.S. Department of Education in the next fiscal year—including major boosts for disadvantaged students, special education, and wraparound services at community schools—and said the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on students and educators has made additional funding more urgent.

An overview of the president’s fiscal 2022 spending proposal that the Biden administration released Friday includes $102.8 billion in discretionary aid for the Education Department. That’s an increase of nearly $30 billion, or approximately 41 percent, from the agency’s current discretionary budget of about $73 billion that lawmakers approved late last year.

Congress often ignores presidents’ annual spending requests, including high-profile proposals and major increases or decreases in spending on established programs. However, Biden might find a somewhat friendlier audience for his ideas in this Congress, which Democrats control, than other presidents.

Biden wants the following notable increases at the Education Department and elsewhere:

  • $36.5 billion for Title I aid to disadvantaged students, an increase of $20 billion over current funding.
  • $15.5 billion in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants to states, a $2.6 billion increase.
  • $1 billion for K-12 schools to use to hire more counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals.
  • $11.9 billion for Head Start early-education program at the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1.2 billion bump.
  • $100 million in a new grant program to foster increased diversity in schools. That seems to pick up where the Obama administration left off.

The proposal also has a big increase for full-service community schools, which provide wraparound services, although just how big that increase would be isn’t clear. Right now, federal grants to community schools total $30 million; the spending request at one point says the president wants $430 million for those schools, yet in a different section, that request is for $443 million. The White House and the Education Department did not immediately respond to requests for clarification about how much Biden wants for those grants.

Message to Congress: ‘More work remains’

Biden’s spending pitch comes nearly a month after he signed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion aid package that includes nearly $130 billion for K-12 education. Combined with two previous COVID-19 relief deals, schools have received nearly $200 billion in emergency federal aid for K-12, representing an unprecedented infusion of money from Washington that will impact schools for years to come.

Noting that the American Rescue Plan provides “essential” resources but that “more work remains” to help people recover from the pandemic, the Biden spending plan goes on to say that, “The discretionary request includes proposals that would contribute to a stronger, more inclusive economy over the long term by investing in children and young people, advancing economic security, opportunity, and fairness for all Americans.” (Discretionary spending is money appropriated annually by Congress.)

“President Biden’s discretionary budget request is the welcome news that educators and students deserve after a very difficult last year,” said Anna Maria Chávez, the executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, in a statement.

Unsurprisingly, the request is very different from former President Donald Trump’s budget blueprints for the Education Department.

In Trump’s fiscal 2021 spending plan released early last year, for example, he sought to roll 29 programs into a block grant, as part of an overall plan to reduce the department’s budget. Trump also sought cuts to the department’s overall budget in previous fiscal years, although Congress rejected that and approved relatively small increases to Title I and other big-ticket programs throughout Trump’s presidency, including when Republicans controlled the House and Senate.

During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to triple Title I funding, as did other Democratic candidates. His new spending blueprint for fiscal 2022 falls short of that pledge, although the bulk of the American Rescue Plan’s K-12 aid is being allocated to local schools through the Title I formula. (Biden made that pledge before the coronavirus pandemic began.)

The overview released by the White House Friday doesn’t outline his plans for every line item in the Education Department’s budget. It doesn’t specifically mention charter schools, for example. Funding for the Charter Schools Program, which is designed to support the creation of high-quality charters, has become more controversial in recent years. The program is getting $440 million in fiscal 2021, the same as it got in the previous fiscal year.

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