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Education Funding

Education Is a Surprise Big Winner in the Stimulus

By Alyson Klein — January 16, 2009 3 min read
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I have to admit, I was pretty surprised yesterday.

Even though state lawmakers and advocates for schools were asking for some pretty big money for education, and even though I was hearing rumors about it, I never expected to see such a huge chunk of the proposed stimulus going to education. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 billion to $141 billion, for both K-12 and higher ed. (The full bill, and some helpful explanatory language, is on the House Appropriations Committee’s Web site).

It’s absolutely staggering, especially when you consider that the entire budget for the Department of Education, including money for student loans and other mandatory programs was $68 billion in fiscal year 2008, the most recent budget. So, the stimulus would almost double that. Wow.

It seems that, even though it didn’t get much play on the campaign trail, the incoming administration and the new Congress see education as a priority. Often, education plays second fiddle to health care and other programs in the appropriations process, but not this time. I haven’t done a full analysis of the bill myself, but according to this story, education got the biggest chunk.

The stimulus, though, is more than just a huge, huge spending bill. It’s our very first indication of the direction that the incoming Obama administration and the new beefed-up congressional Democratic majority might take education spending and policy.

It’s no surprise that special education and Title I money for disadvantaged kids were the big winners among K-12 programs, with a proposed $13 billion apiece. But some of the smaller appropriations might give us an indication about the new administration and Congress’ thinking. For instance:

- The Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out pay-for-performance money to districts would get $200 million, more than double its funding for in fiscal 2008. My colleague, Steve Sawchuk, has a post over at Teacher Beat on that provision.

But what I found interesting was that the TIF, as it’s known, actually got twice as much money as the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants. Those grants finance the teacher residency programs that were a key part of candidate Obama’s platform. The TQE was still a big winner, with $100 million proposed, compared with its $33 million in fiscal 2008. But the difference in those two programs might say something about the new Congress and administration’s thinking on teacher quality. Do they prefer performance pay over residency programs?

- There’s $250 million proposed for state data systems to track student progress. The data is supposed to be studied to figure out ways to boost student achievement. Although that figure is dwarfed by the funding for IDEA and Title I, it’s still a pretty big chunk of change.

- Mike Petrilli has a great post calling the stimulus Christmas in January, in part because there’s so much money with almost no strings for schools and states.

Actually, there are a few strings, although they’re attached to a relatively small slice of the money. I’m still looking into this, but they seem to show that the Obama administration and Congress don’t appear to be backing down (at least not yet) on some NCLB requirements.

Under the stimulus bill, in order to qualify for $15 billion in grants for education, states would have to show they are making progress on some NCLB-related goals, including:

- Addressing inequities in the distribution of teachers in low and high poverty schools

- Establishing a state longitudinal data system

- Complying with the requirements in NCLB related to improving assessments, including those for students with disabilities and English language learners

Will all this actually pass? Some of it will, but we’re still pretty early in the process and no one should expect House Republicans (and maybe even some conservative Dems) to swallow so much spending without a fight. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner’s comment on the bill, according to the Post’s story:

Oh my God," he told reporters. "My notes here say that I'm disappointed. I just can't tell you how shocked I am at what I'm seeing."

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