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Education Funding

Education Dept. Gets $73.5 Billion in Funding Deal That Ends Ban on Federal Aid for Busing

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 21, 2020 3 min read
FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2020, file photo, the Washington skyline is seen at dawn with from left the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.

The fiscal 2021 spending deal unveiled by Congress Monday includes relatively small increases for aid to disadvantaged students, special education, career and technical education, and the office for civil rights.

In addition, the bill funding the U.S. Department of Education ends the longstanding prohibition on using federal aid on transportation initiatives to desegregate schools.

In general, the spending deal, which Congress wasexpected to pass Monday before sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature, follows the general trend of recent government funding bills that have provided small increases to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget.

The bill would provide approximately $73.5 billion in discretionary spending to the Education Department for fiscal 2021, an increase of $785 million over current spending levels. K-12 programs would receive $40.6 billion in funding, an increase of $498 million over fiscal 2020.

The deal provides a $227 million increase to Title I, the Education Department’s single-largest K-12 program that supports students from low-income backgrounds, bringing total Title I aid to about $16.5 billion.

Special education, the department’s second-largest K-12 program area, would receive approximately $14.1 billion, an increase of $185 million; most of that increase, $173 million, would go to state special education grants.

Also getting relatively small funding increases in the bill: after-school programs, Title II grants for effective instruction and professional development, magnet schools, and Title IV grants for student support and academic enrichment, among others.

The office for civil rights, a high-profile agency in the department that handles K-12 and higher education civil rights investigations, would get $131 million in fiscal 2021, an increase of $1 million. And state grants for career and technical education funding would rise by $52 million over current levels to more than $1.3 billion.

Charter school program grants, which are intended to support the expansion of high-quality charter schools, would receive $440 million, the same as in fiscal 2020. The Trump administration sought to roll these charter school grants and more than two dozen other Education Department programs into a flexible block grant for states, triggering pushback among charter supporters.

Meanwhile, at the Department of Health and Human Services, the bill provides more than $10.7 billion for Head Start, a $135 million increase. And Child Care and Development Block Grants would increase by $85 million, up to about $5.9 billion.

The bill rejects the administration’s pitch to slash the Education Department’s budget. Congress has rejected similar pitches from the Trump team in past years. The fiscal 2021 spending deal, along with a COVID-19 relief package that includes education aid, also was expected to be passed by Congress Monday and signed by Trump shortly thereafter.

A Longstanding Prohibition

The end of the prohibition on using federal aid on initiatives like busing to integrate schools is a big win for school diversity advocates, who’ve been pushing the change for years. The prohibition dates back more than four decades.

Ending this ban also is a key element of the Strength in Diversity Act, which would create grants to help integrate schools, redraw district lines, and create public school choice zones; the House passed its version of the bill earlier this year, but senators haven’t advanced their chamber’s version of the proposal.

“The anti-integration provisions unnecessarily limit states and local communities from utilizing the full range of school improvement techniques and other opportunities available to them” under federal law, the National Coalition on School Diversity states on its website.

School integration could be a priority for President-elect Joe Biden and his administration. Biden has spoken about the need to break down racial barriers in education, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris signed on as a co-sponsor for the Senate version of the Strength in Diversity Act. Biden and Harris clashed over Biden’s record on school integration and busing during the Democratic presidential primary.

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