Education Funding

Senate Panel Votes to Freeze Most K-12 Funding

By Alyson Klein — September 27, 2011 4 min read
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Precollegiate education—including money for disadvantaged children and special education—would see stagnant funding under a measure approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee that, nonetheless, aims to reverse some cuts made to K-12 programs in the current fiscal year.

Most programs would see level funding, or be cut, in fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. Overall, the U.S. Department of Education would get $68.43 billion, a tiny increase from $68.35 billion in fiscal 2011.

But the bill, which was approved Sept. 21 on a party-line vote of 16-14, would give such national nonprofit groups as the National Writing Project and Reading Is Fundamental, which lost federal funds this year, a chance to compete for new funding.

And it would provide another year of funding for the Education Department’s Striving Readers comprehensive-literacy program, which got no new money in the current budget. The Obama administration wanted to consolidate the program into a bigger funding stream aimed at boosting literacy, and House Republicans cited that decision in targeting the program for elimination.

The department was able to finance new grants for the Striving Readers program this calendar year despite the cut, using funding remaining from fiscal 2010. The money included in the bill passed on Sept. 21, $183 million, would help ensure that those grants—which are spread out over three to five years—remain funded.

Another winner under the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill would be the Promise Neighborhoods program, which would get $60 million, up from $29 million in fiscal 2011. The program, which is modeled on New York City’s Harlem Children’s Zone, helps communities develop education programs that incorporate wrap-around services, such as prekindergarten or mental health programs.

Obama Priority

“This bill was difficult to write,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees K-12 spending. He said that the fiscal 2011 measure, which eliminated 46 programs totaling more than $1.3 billion, “cut all the fat and went into the bone. ... In this bill, we got into the marrow.”

But he said the bill preserves every American’s “right to a good education and job skills.”

But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Republican on the subcommittee, said the bill “does not make the cuts necessary. ... Excessive spending is not going to right our fiscal ship.”

The Senate measure would provide new money for the Obama administration’s top education priority: the Race to the Top grant competition, which would be financed at nearly $700 million. And, for the first time, school districts, not just states, would be able to compete for those grants, a change the administration had requested.

Under the bill, the administration could use the Race to the Top money entirely for K-12 education, as it did with the first round two rounds of the competition, held in 2010. It also could choose to administer a competition to improve early learning, as it did in a fresh round of the program this calendar year.

The bill also calls for nearly $150 million for the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program, which provides grants to scale up promising practices at the district level.

The Race to the Top and i3 initiatives were both originally financed with money from the 2009 economic-stimulus legislation.

But the appropriations bill would trim another administration priority, the Teacher Incentive Fund, which allocates grants to districts to create pay-for-performance programs. TIF would get $300 million, down from nearly $400 million in fiscal 2011.

And a handful of programs would be eliminated, including Voluntary Public School Choice, which got $25 million in fiscal 2011, and the Foreign Language Assistance program, which got $26 million.

Programs Flat-Funded

The Senate committee’s measure would include flat funding for Title I grants for disadvantaged students, which would be financed at $15.7 billion, the same level as in fiscal 2011. It would also include level funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which would receive nearly $11.5 billion.

In seeking to give national nonprofit groups that lost federal aid this year a chance to compete for new money, the bill includes, for instance, a $30 million set-aside in a flexible fund aimed at improving literacy programs.

Half of that money would go to improve school libraries, which previously received funding under a separate $15 million program that was scrapped in the fiscal 2011 budget. The other $15 million could go to literacy programs, giving some programs, such as Reading Is Fundamental, that lost their federal money this year a new shot at federal funds.

Teacher-training and professional programs that also lost all their federal funding in the 2011 budget, such as Teach For America and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, would also get a chance to try for grants.

The bill would set aside 5 percent of the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, the main federal program for teachers, for a competition aimed at financing national teacher-training and professional programs. In fiscal 2011, Congress set aside just 1 percent of the teacher-training funds for the program.

A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2011 edition of Education Week as Senate Panel Votes to Freeze Most K-12 Funding

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