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Budget Deal for 2017 Includes Increases for Title I, Special Education

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 01, 2017 4 min read
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Federal lawmakers have agreed to relatively small spending increases for Title I programs to districts and for special education, as part of a budget deal covering the rest of fiscal 2017 through the end of September.

Title I spending on disadvantaged students would rise by $100 million up to $15.5 billion from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017, along with $450 million in new money that was already slated to be shifted over from the now-defunct School Improvement Grants program.

And state grants for special education would increase by $90 million up to $12 billion. However, Title II grants for teacher development would be cut by $294 million, down to about $2.1 billion for the rest of fiscal 2017.

The bill would also provide $400 million for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program, also known as Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Title IV is a block grant that districts can use for a wide range of programs, including health, safety, arts education, college readiness, and more.

Total U.S. Department of Education spending, including both discretionary and mandatory spending covering K-12 and other issues, would fall by $60 million from fiscal 2016, down to $71.6 billion.

Congress is expected to vote on this budget deal early this week, the Washington Post reported. The federal government has been operating on a resolution that kept fiscal 2017 funding at fiscal 2016 levels. This resolution was slated to expire on April 28, leading to the possibility of a government shutdown, but Congress passed a one-week extension late last week to provide time for a budget deal.

Lawmakers appear to be sending early signals of independence from the Trump administration on education budget issues. For example, in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal Trump released several weeks ago, the president also sought to eliminate just over $1 billion in support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers in fiscal 2018. However, this budget deal for fiscal 2017 would give the program a relatively small boost of $25 million up to nearly $1.2 billion. Trump had also wanted to cut Title II funding in half in fiscal 2017, far more than this agreement, before eliminating it entirely in fiscal 2018.

And programs designed to serve needy students like TRIO and GEAR UP would also get small increases in this fiscal 2017 deal. Several of Trump’s proposed fiscal 2017 cuts were to programs that had already been consolidated under ESSA.

The budget deal doesn’t appear to include a new federal school choice program, a top K-12 priority for the Trump administration, although Trump’s request for such a program appears in his fiscal 2018 proposal and not his fiscal 2017 blueprint.

One more thing about that Title IV funding: The $400 million in funding in the bill is a lot less than the $1.6 billion envisioned for Title IV under ESSA. To make sure that the grants will still be useful to districts, the bill would allow states to distribute them competitively. Just like under ESSA, at least 20 percent of the funding would have to be spent on activities that would help students become safer and healthier and at least 20 percent would be used for activities aimed at helping children become more well-rounded, such as arts education. The big difference from ESSA is that these percentages would apply at the state level, rather than to individual grants.

The change is only supposed to be in place for one year. Lawmakers are hoping that they can provide more money for the program after that.

And in a shift from ESSA, districts that choose to spend the money on technology could dedicate up to 25 percent to technology infrastructure. (That’s up from 15 percent in the original law.)

Here are some other numbers from the budget deal:

  • The department’s office for civil rights would get a small increase of $1.5 million up to $109 million.
  • Pell Grants would be flat-funded at $22.5 billion, and year-round Pell Grants would be supported.
  • Head Start programs, which are administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, would get an $85 million increase to $9.3 billion.
  • The Education Innovation and Research fund would be cut by $20 million down to $100 million.
  • Impact Aid for schools affected by federal activities would get $1.3 billion, a $25 million increase.
  • The District of Columbia’s voucher program would also be extended through the rest of 2017.

You can read additional figures here, starting on page 20.

Reactions Vary

The overall deal is disappointing in several respects because it doesn’t contain more cuts and actually contains several K-12 funding increases, said Neal McCluskey, the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington think tank.

“You’d think there’d be more enthusiasm for cutting K-12 with this Congress and White House,” McCluskey said. (Both are controlled by Republicans.)

He said that the increase for Title I aid is disappointing, and he said the increase for 21st Century programs is mystifying, while the extension of the D.C. voucher program is a win in McCluskey’s book.

By contrast, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that while the deal is “by no means our ideal budget,” she praised it for increasing funds to Head Start, community schools, and special education grants.

“Congress should follow this blueprint to invest in public schools in the 2018 budget as well,” Weingarten said.

Both Weingarten and the Education Trust, a civil rights advocacy group, also praised the budget for re-instituting year-round Pell Grants.

Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.