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Education Funding

House Democrats Pitch ‘Massive Funding Increase’ in Latest Education Spending Bill

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 11, 2021 | Updated: July 12, 2021 4 min read
Drawing of money dropping into a jar.

Updated: This article has been updated to reflect a House subcommittee vote on Monday, July 12.

The main federal program supporting students from low-income backgrounds would increase by more than 100 percent, and overall funding for K-12 schools would increase by more than 60 percent, under an spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year proposed by House lawmakers.

The fiscal 2022 spending legislation for the U.S. Department of Education, released Sunday by a House appropriations subcommittee, is a dramatic departure from past spending bills that typically provided incremental increases for education programs. It shows that House Democrats endorse the President Joe Biden’s call for a huge influx of new federal money for schools to help them address the affects of the coronavirus pandemic. But the proposal still has far to go before reaching Biden’s desk.

The spending bill would provide $65.6 billion for K-12 education, a dramatic increase of roughly $25 billion from the current fiscal year. That matches what the Biden administration has proposed in its budget blueprint, according to a summary of the bill. Most that increase would go to Title I grants for disadvantaged students, the single-largest K-12 program at the Education Department, which would receive $36 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of $19.5 billion from what it gets now.

The legislation provides all of that Title I funding through the existing formula, which consists of four main grants. It makes no mention of Biden’s proposed “equity grants” that would create a new class of Title I grants intended to create more equitable spending, and which represent the administration’s signature K-12 initiative. Biden proposed flat-funding the current Title I grant program.

There’s more to the story, however, that might indicate Democratic lawmakers are sympathetic to the general goal of those equity grants.

Within that $36 billion funding level for Title I, the bill provides major increases and the highest funding amounts for two of the four main grants. One grant aims to distribute money to states based on their efforts to fund education as measured by their per-capita wealth, as well as the extent to which funding between school districts is equalized. The other grant is designed to provide more funding to districts with either relatively high numbers of disadvantaged children or high percentages of such students, using weighted data. Each of those two grants within the Title I formula would get $14.1 billion out of the $36 billion total.

In addition, the bill would provide $17.2 billion to special education, an increase of $3.1 billion; the bulk of the additional money would go to grants to states under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Programs for English-language acquisition, professional development for educators, and after-school services would also get increases in the legislation.

And perhaps the biggest K-12 winner of all in the bill is the program supporting full-service community schools: House lawmakers want to increase its funding from $30 million to $443 million, an increase of nearly 1,500 percent.

Total discretionary funding for the department would rise to $102.8 billion in the bill, an increase of $29.3 billion from fiscal 2021.

The House subcommittee that oversees education spending reported the proposal favorably to the chamber’s appropriations committee on Monday.

Hurdles face Democrats’ ambitious proposal

Overall, the proposal from Democrats would represent a huge increase in K-12 funding. Consider, for example, that the $65.6 billion just for K-12 in the bill is pretty close to the Education Department’s total discretionary budget this year of roughly $74 billion. And in recent years, Congress has provided incremental increases to programs like Title I that are a far cry from the increase lawmakers are seeking for various education programs.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chairwoman of the House appropriations committee, said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated severe challenges people were facing in education, health care, and other areas. She also didn’t hedge in her description of the appropriations bill.

“This bill touches people at every stage of their lives, and the massive funding increase will create a society that provides people with the help they so desperately need,” DeLauro said.

As a presidential candidate, Biden pitched tripling Title I funding as a way to boost teacher pay and support for students.

While Democrats control the House, it remains to be seen how the Senate—where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in a chamber split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans—will approach the K-12 budget for the upcoming year.

GOP lawmakers, many of whom have sharply criticized public schools’ performance during the pandemic, could mount a fierce public resistance to the type of funding increases for K-12 that Democrats want. They already expressed skepticism about the administration’s education spending blueprint in a House hearing earlier this year.

The Democrats’ legislation also seeks to increase spending on programs outside the Education Department that serve children.

For Head Start, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, the bill calls for $12.2 billion in fiscal 2022, a $1.4 billion increase. And the legislation provides $450 million for Preschool Development Grants at HHS, an increase of $175 million.

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