The House appropriations subcommittee responsible for setting spending levels for the U.S Department of Education and federal education programs met Wednesday morning to prepare its fiscal 2016 funding bill for a full committee markup next week.
Lawmakers unveiled the appropriations package Tuesday. Among other things, it would slash funding for the Education Department and its programs by $2.8 billion by eliminating a slate of nearly 20 programs, including many high-profile Obama administration priorities.
Notably, the subcommittee’s own markup on Wednesday was the first to occur in more than three years, as Congress has been dysfunctional in its ability to draft fiscal year spending bills, especially since it approved across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
“This is a rare day that we have this bill to be considered,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the full appropriations committee. He noted that the funding measure, which also includes spending for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, is the largest of all the appropriations bills except for defense.
“It’s been a hard chore, I understand that,” Rogers said. “The allocations that all the subcommittees received have been strenuous and difficult to work under.”
The subcommittee markup was relatively swift with Democrats unsuccessfully offering no more than a dozen amendments that would either increase the funding levels for several education programs, including Title I for low-income students, or would reinstate programs the spending bill proposes to eliminate, such as the Preschool Development Grant program.
“It’s called the people’s bill for a reason, because it is about providing the people we represent the opportunity they need to get ahead in life,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking member of the subcommittee. “The programs that we fund level the playing field for low-income children looking to learn. ... Yet the majority has chosen this bill the bear the brunt of the cuts.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Ok., the chairman of the subcommittee, said he’d be willing to work with committee members to try to find a way to increase funding levels for early-childhood education programs, but that overall the bill eliminates programs that are “not the best use of taxpayer dollars for our limited allocations in this economy.”
Cole also pointed out that the spending proposal would increase funding for several important programs, including for Head Start, special education, charter schools, and programs that help disadvantaged students prepare for and graduate from college.
“This is good bill and, unlike the president’s request, it lives within the budget framework,” Cole said.
The full committee markup takes place next week, and members on both sides of the aisle are expected to offer dozens of amendments.