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Congress Eyes Modest Increases in FY 2009 Education Spending

By Alyson Klein — July 15, 2008 4 min read
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The Senate bill, which was approved by the chamber’s Appropriations Committee on a 26-3 vote June 26, would provide about $61.8 billion for the Department of Education for fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1. That would be a 4.2 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

A House Appropriations subcommittee voted a week earlier to boost spending for disadvantaged students and for students in special education as part of a similar 2009 spending bill financing education, labor, health, and other programs.

Both bills would eliminate funding for the controversial Reading First program, which was implemented in 2002 to bolster reading instruction in struggling schools. (“‘Reading First’ Funds Headed for Extinction,” this issue.)

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $14.5 billion for Title I grants for districts, which are used to help educate disadvantaged students. That amount would be a 4.3 percent increase over fiscal 2008. And the committee voted to hike spending to help states cover the cost of educating students in special education, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, increasing that aid to $11.4 billion, a 4.1 percent increase over this fiscal year.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with education, called the proposed bottom line for the idea “woefully inadequate, but better than what we’ve done.”

Action This Year?

The House Appropriations subcommittee’s measure, meanwhile, would provide $14.45 billion for Title I grants to districts, about a 4 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s level. The bill would provide $600 million for Title I school improvement grants, 22 percent more than in fiscal 2008.

The House panel would raise spending for grants to states under the idea in fiscal 2009 to $11.5 billion, a 5 percent increase.

“We wish the numbers could be higher than they are,” said Mary L. Kusler, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va. “But we are encouraged by the increases for [special education] and Title I.”

The measure was approved by voice vote on June 19. The full House Appropriations Committee has not yet considered the education spending bill.

Lawmakers on both panels said they hoped that Congress would be able to pass the fiscal 2009 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education budget before adjourning for the year.

But earlier this year, Democratic congressional leaders, including Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, and Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, suggested that lawmakers might wait until a new president takes office before passing some domestic-spending bills.

Last year, President Bush vetoed an education spending bill because it contained more money than he had requested. Congress failed to override the veto and had to craft a compromise measure.

Supplemental-Spending Bill

Meanwhile, on June 30, President Bush signed an emergency-spending bill financing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that also permits the federal government to continue reimbursing schools for administrative and most student-transportation costs covered by Medicaid, until at least next spring. A Bush administration directive had sought to halt the practice.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a final rule in December that sought to eliminate reimbursements to districts for certain administrative and transportation expenses from the Medicaid program. Districts receive such payments to cover the costs of transporting some students in special education, for instance. (“U.S. Proposes to Trim School Medicaid Funding,” Sept. 12, 2007.)

But, also in December, Congress approved legislation that kept any school-related changes to Medicaid from taking effect until July 1 of this year. The emergency-spending bill extended the moratorium until April 1 of next year. Some lawmakers hope to negotiate potential changes with the next administration—or just leave the reimbursement program in place, lobbyists said.

The measure includes what proponents call a “new GI bill” to expand education benefits for veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. It provides more than $62 billion over 10 years to help cover the cost of books and tuition, and a monthly stipend. But the bill does not include $400 million, which had been championed by some rural lawmakers, to provide a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, a program that gives federal aid to make up for diminished timber revenues in counties that are home to national forests. (“Rural Districts Fear Loss of Timber Revenue,” Feb. 28, 2007.)

A version passed by the Senate last month had included the rural-aid money, but it was stripped out as part of a compromise between Democratic leaders in Congress and President Bush.

Without the money, some districts will be forced to make dramatic budget cuts, supporters of the provision said.

A version of this article appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as Congress Eyes Modest Increases in FY 2009 Education Spending

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