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Lawmakers Strike Deal on Education Spending, Omit Ban on Money for Guns

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 13, 2018 5 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education would get a $581 million increase in total funding, and programs for special education, career and technical education, and charter schools would also get more money, through a spending deal struck by lawmakers Thursday.

A conference committee of House and Senate members who oversee education agreed to set department spending at nearly $71.5 billion for the upcoming fiscal year 2019 budget. If signed into law by President Donald Trump, it would be the second straight year that Congress agreed to boost the department’s budget.

In general, the spending deal rejects the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 proposal that calls for slashing the department’s overall budget, the elimination of several programs, and the creation of school choice initiatives. The budget deal does rescind $600 million in previously appropriated reserve funding for Pell Grants. If you include that figure in the calculations about decline or growth in spending, then the deal would keep Education Department funding virtually flat compared to current levels.

The agreement must now be approved by both the full House and Senate before heading for Trump’s desk. However, lawmakers did not resolve a dispute over whether schools can use Every Student Succeeds Act grants to pay for firearms and firearms training. (More on that below.)

Boosts for Special Education, Charters

Here are some details from a summary of the spending agreement released by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the House appropriations committee chairman, as well as the conference committee’s detailed report on individual programs:

  • Title I: The largest single pot of cash for K-12, which goes to disadvantaged students, gets nearly $15.9 billion, a $100 million increase.
  • Title II: The legislation provides nearly $2.1 billion for Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019, released earlier this year, seeks to eliminate this program. Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019, released earlier this year, seeks to eliminate this program.
  • Special Education: The bill includes nearly $12.4 billion for Individuals With Disabilities Education Act grants to states, an increase of nearly $87 million over the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
  • Student Support and Academic Achievement State Grants (Title IV Part A): The bill includes $1.17 billion, or $70 million above the fiscal year 2018 level. These grants support school safety, the creation of supportive school environments, education technology, arts and civics programs, and more. Trump’s budget proposal seeks to eliminate this program.
  • Office for Civil Rights: The bill includes $125 million, an $8 million increase. Trump’s budget would cut this program by $10 million.
  • School Safety National Activities: The bill provides $95 million, a $5 million increase. The Trump budget proposal seeks to cut this program to $43 million.
  • Charter Schools: The bill increases funding for charters by $40 million, to a total of $440 million.
  • Education Innovation and Research: The bill provides $130 million, a $10 million increase.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers: This after-school program gets a $10 million increase in the bill, bringing funding up to just over $1.2 billion.
  • Impact Aid: The bill provides more than $1.4 billion for Impact Aid, an increase of $32 million above the fiscal year 2018 level. This money is earmarked for districts that are impacted by federal activities, such as military bases. The Trump budget seeks to cut this program to below $1.3 billion.
  • Career, Technical, and Adult Education: The bill provides $1.9 billion for career, technical and adult education programs, an increase of nearly $95 million over fiscal year 2018.
  • Education for Homeless Children and Youth: The bill provides $93.5 million, an increase of $8.5 million.
  • Pell Grants: The maximum award would increase by $100, up to $6,195.
  • Head Start: The bill provides a $200 million increase, up to $10.1 billion. (Head Start is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget, not the Education Department’s.)
  • Preschool Development Grants: The bill keeps funding for these grants flat at $250 million. (These grants are part of the HHS budget.)

Trump sought to create a $1 billion “opportunity grants” program to support both public and private school choice. But Congress declined to fund it in the agreement. His administration had better luck with backing charter school grant increases, although Trump sought $500 million, $60 million above what’s in the agreement.

Also absent from the summary and the detailed conference report is any mention of Trump’s proposal to merge the Education and Labor Departments—indeed, both departments are handled separately in both the summary and report.

Lawmakers agreed to eliminate a longstanding provision in the budget that prohibited federal money from being used for school transportation funding that aided desegregation efforts.

Fight Over Firearms

Lawmakers did not include in the agreement a ban on using ESSA money for firearms and firearms training for educators. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the House subcommittee for education spending, said the failure to include this ban represented a missed opportunity to clarify that Congress “never intended for federal dollars to arm teachers.” She also said she understood that ESSA already banned this.

Democrats and some education advocates have implored Congress to prohibit ESSA funds from being used for guns, following reports that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos planned to allow Title IV Part A money to be spent on firearms. DeVos said she would take no position on money being used that way, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, has said the question is ultimately up to states and districts.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the House subcommittee that controls federal education spending, said he agreed with DeLauro that ESSA money could not be used for guns. “It’s already against the law,” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear, if you read the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Asked about the position taken by DeVos and Alexander, Cole responded that if they pushed the issue, “I think they’d find themselves in court immediately.”

However, Cole added that including a ban on using ESSA money on guns in the spending bill would have slowed down and complicated the appropriations process. And he said that ESSA aside, he doesn’t object if states and districts seek to arm school staff.

Congress is trying to pass bills funding the federal government and get them signed by Trump before Oct. 1—otherwise the government will shut down on that date.

Photo: U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, speaks during a Town Hall meeting in Moore, Okla. Sue Ogrocki/AP-File