Advocacy groups for public and private schools have banded together to try to save a fund in the federal budget that is authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act for innovative school programs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a fiscal 2005 spending plan for education that would eliminate the fund, while an appropriations bill approved by the House of Representatives would provide $20 million for it.
That would be far less than the $297 million that President Bush proposed for the fund in his 2005 budget request, the same amount that it received in fiscal 2004. The fund is authorized by Title V, Part A, of the No Child Left Behind Act, and has been used for a broad array of materials and equipment or services to students, ranging from remedial programs to educational technology.
“The program is consistent with the president’s philosophy of putting flexible funding in the hands of local leaders,” Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey said via e-mail.
But John Scofield, a spokesman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, called the fund “walking-around money for the states” that is not tied to high standards.
“We put our scarce resources into Title I, special education, and Pell Grants,” he said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee said in a report that it eliminated the fund because of “the lack of evidence of effectiveness in contributing to improved student learning and the importance of investments in other areas where a system for measuring program performance is in place.”
Groups such as the American Association of School Administrators, the Council for American Private Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National School Boards Association have formed a coalition to lobby federal legislators to change their minds.
Congress is expected to complete work on the appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education when it resumes for a lame-duck session in mid-November. The 2005 fiscal year began Oct. 1.
Private school educators are concerned about the possible loss of money under Title V because that program reaches more private school students than any other federal education program, said Joe McTighe, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, a Germantown, Md.-based umbrella lobbying group for private school associations.
Title V money goes to public school districts, but those districts must spend an amount on materials or services for private school students that corresponds with their proportion within a geographic area. The aid may go for serving all students in a school, not just those who are disadvantaged, as is the case under Title I.
State departments of education use the money to pay for experienced educational consultants to visit school districts to help turn them around, said Patricia F. Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the CCSSO, based in Washington.
“The critical component is that the money is flexible,” said Dan Fuller, the director of federal programs for the Alexandria, Va.-based NSBA.
The private school community is divided over the importance of Title V money.
“Most of our schools are not receiving federal entitlement funds,” said Edward E. Gamble, the executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools. “With federal money usually come federal strings, and you can’t use the funds for religious purposes—and that’s what our schools exist for.”
At the same time, almost every Roman Catholic school in the country benefits from Title V, said the Rev. William S. Davis, the deputy secretary for schools for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Father Davis stressed that private schools don’t receive money under the program. School districts pay the bills for materials or services that they are obligated to share with private schools. Catholic schools primarily receive library books, technology, and professional development under Title V, Father Davis said.
In its 2000 ruling in Mitchell v. Helms, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government’s provision of computers and library books to religious schools under a federal program that was the precursor to Title V. The program had been challenged as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against government-established religion.
Mr. Scofield noted that House members have gotten the message that school groups are opposed to a reduction in funding for Title V.
“We’re getting some complaining,” he said.