President Bush has signed into a law a bill that will increase federal education spending by 2.9 percent in fiscal 2008 and that generally favors Democratic priorities over the administration’s.
The plan to appropriate $59.2 billion for U.S. Department of Education programs in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 is part of a larger budget drama in which Democrats largely gave in to a hard-line White House stance that earlier measures contained too much in domestic spending increases.
In signing the bill Dec. 26, President Bush criticized Congress for including too many earmarks, or small projects requested by individual lawmakers, in the legislation, a $550 billion omnibus measure that includes fiscal 2008 spending for most other Cabinet agencies as well as the Education Department.
He said in a statement that the bill contains nearly 9,800 earmarks, totaling more than $10 billion. “These projects are not funded through a merit-based process and provide a vehicle for wasteful government spending,” the president said.
The Senate gave final approval to the bill Dec. 18 by a vote of 76-17; the House approved it the next day, 272-142.
The measure will provide $13.9 billion to the Title I program for disadvantaged students, an 8.6 percent increase over the $12.8 billion appropriated for the program in fiscal 2007. But the amount is about 2 percent less than what was proposed for the program in a bill vetoed by President Bush in November.
By contrast, the Reading First program was cut significantly under the legislation, dropping from $1 billion last year to $393 million in fiscal 2008. That is slightly more severe than the $400 million proposed for the program in the vetoed spending bill.
The president said he vetoed that bill, which covered the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, because it exceeded the spending caps set in his proposed budget.
Reading First, aimed at grades K-3, is one of President Bush’s highest priorities under the No Child Left Behind Act, which also covers Title I and many other federal K-12 programs. But the reading program has paid a price on Capitol Hill for a series of highly critical reports over the past 15 months by the Education Department’s inspector general that found favoritism for certain textbook publishers and other management problems in the program’s early years.
Small Increases Elsewhere
Education advocates expressed disappointment over the modest increases for K-12 programs included in the omnibus legislation.
“It’s not as good as we had hoped,” said Mary Kusler, the assistant director of governmental relations for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington Va. “We have not gotten to the point in Congress where they’re investing in the future.”
For K-12 education, most of the total will finance programs for the 2008-09 school year. In addition to the major increase for Title I and the cut to Reading First, the measure will appropriate:
• $10.9 billion for K-12 state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a nearly 1 percent increase over the fiscal 2007 level of $10.8 billion;
• $2.93 billion to help states improve the quality of their teachers, a 1.7 percent increase; and
• $1.2 billion for career and vocational education programs, a 0.5 percent decrease.