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Congress Gives Final Approval to 2011 Budget Agreement

By Alyson Klein — April 14, 2011 2 min read
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Congress has finally passed a spending bill that would finance federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, through Sept. 30. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure.

The House approved the bill this afternoon by a vote of 260 to 167, the Senate by a vote of 81 to 19. Passage followed months of wrangling and more than half a dozen stopgap measures amid concerns that the government would be forced to shut down if Congress failed to act.

Now lawmakers can move on to bigger and better things—namely, fighting exactly the same fights over next year’s spending bills, and probably the ones for the year after that, too.

Under the measure, the Education Department’s budget is cut by more than $1 billion from fiscal year 2010, bringing it down to $68.5 billion for fiscal 2011, from $69.8 billion, if you don’t factor in Pell Grants for low-income college students.

Wins: Race to the Top was a big winner under the measure, getting $700 million. (Some folks didn’t expect it to get anything.) Only states can compete for the awards, not districts. And the department can consider applications from last year’s competition, which had 12 winners. The Investing in Innovation, or i3, program got $150 million. Plus, Head Start, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, got a boost of $340 million, bringing it to $7.57 billion.

Losses: A number of programs are eliminated under the agreement, including the $100 million Educational Technology State grants, the $19 million Literacy Through School Libraries, and the $42 million Byrd Honors Scholarships. Plus, the measure doesn’t restore cuts made in a short-term spending bill passed earlier this year, which slashed the $88 million Smaller Learning Communities program, and the $250 million Striving Readers program, among other cuts.

Draws: The budget agreement level-funds Title I grants to districts at $14.5 billion, special education at $11.5 billion, and keeps the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550. And the Teacher Incentive Fund is level-funded at $400 million.

The two education lawmakers in the House had very different views on the bill.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted for it as a step toward getting the nation’s fiscal house in order, which, in his view, ultimately will benefit students:

Chairman Kline believes the final agreement is an important part of the Republican efforts to reduce federal spending and support the prosperity of future generations. Even the best education system in the world cannot prepare children for success in a nation consumed by debt. That is why Congress will continue making the tough decisions necessary to end Washington's spending addiction," said his spokesman, Brian Newell.

But Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, voted against it, saying that the cuts squeeze the middle class and won’t do much to cut the deficit:

I object to the fact that this deal to keep the government running was made, once again, on the backs of the middle class, workers and poor families. It is wholly unfair to suggest that Congress can meaningfully reduce the deficit by only chipping away at one part of our budget that represents only 12 percent of overall spending and that disproportionately affects the middle class. It is also unfair for House Republicans to hold the federal government and the American people hostage every time they don't get everything they want. That's not responsible governance and it is not bipartisan, it is extreme and dangerous for our economy and our country.

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