School’s (almost) out for summer, and the rest of the K-12 world may be heading into the summer vacation season. But the U.S. Department of Education has a ton on its plate, from reviewing NCLB waiver-renewal applications and teacher equity plans to investigating civil rights violations to gearing up for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act.
But, thanks in part to those across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, there are far fewer folks at the department to handle all of that work than there were just a few years ago.
Tucked away in the very back of the Education Department’s budget pitch for the next federal fiscal year (that’s fiscal year 2016) is a request for more money for departmental management, in light of fewer full-time employees and a growing workload.
The department wants to bump its full-time staff from the current 4,025 to 4,328. And the agency wants more money for management, asking for $2.54 billion for administrative expenses, a roughly $280 million increase over current funding, or about 14 percent.
Adding to the department’s burden, according to the budget document? “Implementation of complex new competitive grant programs, like Investing in Innovation” as well as growing responsibilities when it comes to student financial aid, including processing FAFSA forms. The agency even included this helpful chart to show why it’s stretched so thin.
The House and Senate committees that deal with education spending are expected to meet this month and begin hashing out bills that finance the department and other agencies. In fact, the House subcommittee that controls K-12 spending is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to consider its bill.
So will the GOP-controlled Congress take the department up on its request? It’s doubtful, especially since some Republican presidential candidates are calling for getting rid of the department altogether, not adding to its ranks.
There’s also language in the House bill to renew the ESEA aimed at slimming down the department’s workforce. So Congress isn’t exactly in a spend-money-on-federal-employees'-salaries kind of mood.
Plus, the changes to the student loan program, and new competitive grants remain pretty controversial in Congress. It’s hard to imagine that lawmakers would give the Obama administration more money to implement programs it doesn’t particularly like.
Not great news, I suppose, if you’re an Education Department employee burning the midnight oil to get waiver applications approved before the start of the school year.