House lawmakers who oversee appropriations for the U.S. Department of Education have voted to advance a bill funding the agency for the coming budget year. Reflecting partisan divisions, Republican and Democratic members differed sharply over the impact of the GOP-sponsored bill, which would provide $66 billion to the department, a $2.4 billion cut for fiscal 2018.
In a brief hearing before a House subcommittee last week, Republicans stressed that the proposed legislation would preserve current funding levels for Title I programs for disadvantaged students, increase spending on special education by $200 million, and keep intact current aid for early education and career and technical education.
But Democrats slammed the bill’s elimination of $2 billion in Title II money for teacher training and class-size reductions, and said its increases to other education programs were welcome but not sufficient.
The vote means that the bill advances to the full House Appropriations Committee, which could take up the measure this week. Notably, the bill does not include two signature school choice initiatives in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget: a $1 billion public-school-choice program and a $250 million state grant program to expand private school choice.
The House bill’s cut of 3.5 percent for the Education Department is significantly less than the $9.2 billion reduction—or 13.5 percent—the Trump administration wants. However, the legislation does match the Trump spending blueprint’s move to eliminate Title II aid.Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the subcommittee chairman, said the bill is “continuing to support early-childhood education, particularly for those at risk.” And he noted the bill’s increased support for Title IV, saying, “These funds can be used flexibly by school districts across the country.”
But the subcommittee’s top Democrat, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, took aim at the $2 billion Title II cut. “That appears to me to be anti-teacher,” DeLauro said. And she said that while the $200 million increase in special education grants [bringing total funding up to $12.2 billion] is appreciated, “special education funding continues to fall short of our commitment” to students with special needs.
In other highlights of the House legislation:
• Traditional Title I aid to districts would remain flat at $15.9 billion.
• Charter school grants would get a relatively small bump, to $370 million, up from $342 million.
• Title IV’s block grant, designed to finance a diverse set of education programs, would get a $100 million boost, to $500 million, from current spending. Trump wants to eliminate the block grant entirely.
• Career and technical education spending would remain the same as now, at about $1.1 billion.
• Preschool development grants, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would be flat-funded at $250 million.
In advance of the July 13 hearing, several education advocacy groups singled out the Title II cuts proposed in the House bill for criticism. Executive Director Chris Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers, for example, said, “Cutting these funds to zero wouldn’t allow for an opportunity to improve how we spend those dollars and would turn our back on the commitments we have made to teachers and students.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 19, 2017 edition of Education Week as K-12 Panel Advances Budget Bill