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Education Funding

Senate Panel Goes Its Own Way on Title I, TIF, and Facilities

By Alyson Klein — July 28, 2009 4 min read
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Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who oversees the Senate appropriations committee, kicked off a mark-up of the education spending bill today by reminding everyone that schools and colleges got $100 billion under the stimulus.

He didn’t say so explicitly, but that one-time windfall was probably a key reason that the Obama administration, the House of Representatives, and now the Senate subcommittee on education spending proposed just modest increases for education spending this year.

The Senate subcommittee proposed $63.45 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, an $800 million increase over fiscal 2009. That’s just a little less than the $64.16 billion in the House bill and the $64.18 billion in Obama’s request.

The bill includes $13.8 billion for Title I grants to districts, a significant boost over the President’s request of $12.9 billion, but also a pretty major cut from the fiscal year 2009 level of $14.5 billion. A bill approved by the House of Representatives last week includes $14.5 billion for the grants, about the same level as fiscal year 2009.

Obama had asked for less money for Title I grants to districts in fiscal year 2010 than the program got in fiscal year 2009, in part because Title I grants got a huge influx in the stimulus of $10 billion over two years, and in part because Obama wanted to shift some of the money to Title I school improvement grants, which help turnaround struggling schools. Obama sought $1.5 billion for the grants.

That didn’t happen here. Instead, the committee level-funded school improvement grants at $546 million, the same amount the program got in fiscal 2009 and in the House bill.

But the bill includes $700 million for school renovation grants, a perennial priority for Harkin. Districts must compete for the grants, and then match the federal money with local dollars, Harkin said.

“School renovation should have been funded in the Recovery Act,” Harkin said. “But in the end school renovation ended up with no money whatsoever.” (If you’ll remember, some $16 billion was stripped out of the Senate’s version of the bill at the eleventh hour to appease moderates in both parties and didn’t get put back in during conference.)

Marc Egan, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, praised the school facilities money.

“We applaud Chairman Harkin for continuing his push for school modernization,” he said. “While we’re pleased the bill restores some of the proposed cut to Title I basic grants, it does not go far enough and we hope that will change as the bill advances.”

The measure doesn’t go as far as the House bill, or the President’s request, in financing the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out pay-for-performance grants to districts on a competitive basis.

It provides $300 million for the TIF, a substantial hike over the $97 million the program received in fiscal 2009, but not as much as the mega-increase sought by the Obama administration of $487 million. The House bill was much closer to the administration, with $445 million for the teacher pay program.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, hinted that she might try to introduce an amendment to hike funding for the TIF when the bill goes to the full committee for consideration on Thursday.

“I’d like to work with you to figure out a way that we could increase funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund,” she said.

But Harkin said states could use a portion of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund to cover the cost of performance-pay programs. (Of course, that program is competitive. So it’s likely that not all states could get a piece.)

The measure also eliminates the $112 million Early Reading First program, which Obama had sought to increase to $162 million. Instead, it pumps $263 million total into the Striving Readers program, which aides said would lead to a more comprehensive approach to reading, at all levels of instruction.

Right now, Striving Readers is funded at $35 million. The Senate level still isn’t as much as the President asked for. Obama wanted $370 million for Striving Readers. The House put $146 million into the program.

Other highlights:

*Special education grants to states got $11.5 billion, about the same as in fiscal year 2009, the House bill, and the President’s request.

*Education Technology State Grants got $100 million, the same as in the House, and the Obama budget, but a lot less than the $269 million the program got in fiscal 2009. The program got $650 million in the stimulus, spread over two years.

*The administration’s $50 million drop-out-prevention initiative was fully funded.

*Charter schools would get $256 million, an increase of $40 million over fiscal year 2009, but less than the $268 million the President wanted.

*The state Safe and Drug Free schools grant program would be eliminated, in keeping with an Obama proposal.

*The $66 million Even Start Family Literacy Program would also be zeroed out, as Obama suggested.

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