Education Funding

Lack of Clarity in Budget Bill Leaves Ed. Dept. Some Flexibility

By Alyson Klein — May 05, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

The tumultuous budget process that finally produced a federal spending deal for the rest of fiscal 2011 also left a lack of clarity in final funding levels for U.S. Department of Education programs.

Typically, lawmakers set new fiscal year spending levels for every federal program. But this year, lawmakers just extended funding for a number of programs at fiscal 2010 levels. At the same time, the Obama administration also made a number of cuts, including to programs in the Education Department.

The final budget agreement, reached April 8 just hours before the federal government was slated to shut down, resulted in a department budget of $68.5 billion for fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30, after adjusting for the Pell Grant program. That’s down from $69.8 billion in the previous fiscal year using the same yardstick.

But in a number of cases—such as the nearly $3 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program—spending levels aren’t in the formal bill. Instead, they are outlined in charts accompanying the legislation.

For instance, according to the charts prepared by congressional aides, the teacher-quality grants are slated to be cut by $475 million. But that cut isn’t actually written into the bill.

Under Pressure

The Education Department has 30 days from April 15, when the package was signed into law, to set final spending levels, and in some instances could become the target of advocates looking for a way to have funding restored.

But the department is not planning to make major changes to the spending plan outlined by congressional aides, said Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the agency.

“We believe that Congress was clear about where they wanted cuts to be made,” Mr. Hamilton said. “We have a very limited amount of flexibility in how to carry out a small number of those cuts, not wide latitude.”

Budget experts say that’s a smart move. Making major changes, they say, could prove politically perilous.

“It would be unwise for the department to manipulate the unspecific language in the bill. That would jeopardize their relationship with Congress,” said Jennifer Cohen, a senior policy analyst with the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

Still, even lawmakers acknowledge that the budget process opens the door to more flexibility this year.

“The Senate and House Appropriations committees expect that when the Education Department writes its spending plan for fiscal year 2011, it should strongly consider the funding-level assumptions that the committees used to write the final spending bill,” said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that sets the funding for the department. “However, the committees also understand that only the bill language is legally binding, so the department has some discretion.”

At least one lawmaker is hoping to persuade the department to use some of its flexibility to help a program that is slated to be defunded in the charts that accompanied the bill—but was not specifically zeroed out in the law.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a longtime supporter of school libraries, has spoken to both Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget about whether the department can restore some money for the Literacy Through School Libraries program, which was financed at $19 million in fiscal 2011. He’d also like to get dedicated funding for school libraries down the line, said his spokesman, Chip Unruh.

In general, however, education advocates expect little to change from the spending parameters outlined in the final budget deal.

“There could be minor differences for smaller programs,” said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. “But I’d be surprised if there are any surprises.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as As Dust Settles in Final Federal Budget Deal, Some Funding-Level Details Still Sketchy


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
How Can Data-Driven Instructional Programming Promote Equity and Student Achievement?
By now, you’ve started the new school year and begun gathering new academic data on your learners from interim, summative, and perhaps even social and emotional learning (SEL) assessment sources. These data points help you
Content provided by ACT

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding U.S. Senators Tee Up Big Boost in School Funding for Next Year
The fiscal 2022 bill would increase aid for disadvantaged students, mental-health professionals, research, and state academic assessments.
3 min read
Image shows lots of cash. Rolls of dollars lay flat on a light blue background.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Opinion Don’t Plan on That Federal Education Spending Spree
A Democratic spending spree once depicted as inevitable is shrinking before our eyes, meaning big implications for education.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Education Funding Feds Pump $1.5 Billion Extra Toward Schools to Address Cafeteria Food Shortage
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced funds to help schools more easily purchase U.S.-grown foods amid widespread supply shortages.
1 min read
Empty school cafeteria
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Letter to the Editor More Money for Schools Isn’t the Answer
The real problem is not funding but demands that teachers do more than just teach their subject, writes Walt Gardner.
1 min read