The U.S. Senate today approved a long-stalled measure that would provide $10 billion to prevent what supporters say would be hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs nationwide.
Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives, meanwhile, are taking the unusual step of calling for lawmakers to return from their August recess next week to pass the final version of the bill.
The legislation is intended to help states weather the continuing economic downturn, particularly as funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included nearly $40 billion in aid to states, begins to dry up.
The bill is explicit that the money would have to be used for salaries, benefits, and support services for school staff. Districts also could use it to recall or rehire former staff members, or to bring on new employees for K-12 schools and early childhood programs. There had been some concerns that states used the education aid provided under the recovery act to divert funding to other programs.
The Senate bill, approved 61-39 today, is fully offset, meaning that the $10 billion price tag is covered by cuts to other programs. Some of those cuts are to education programs, including $50 million from the Striving Readers program, which helps finance adolescent literacy efforts, and more than $10 million from Ready to Teach, which finances telecommunications programs for teachers. It also includes an $82 million cut to student financial aid administration programs.
Separately, the legislation includes $16 billion in additional Medicaid aid to states. That provision has an indirect effect on education, advocates say, because without those funds, states would likely have to significantly cut their budgets, which would almost certainly affect K-12 education.
The House approved a different version of the education jobs bill last month that included $800 million in education offsets, some of which took aim at key Obama administration priorities. They included a $500 million cut to Race to the Top, which rewards states for revamping standards, assessments, and other policies, and a $200 million cut to the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants for pay-for-performance programs. But the Obama administration threatened to veto the bill if those cuts remained in place, and the proposal also received significant pushback from moderate senators.
Race to Top Extension?
Meanwhile, lawmakers have been working on the departmental spending bills for fiscal year 2011, which starts Oct. 1. Those measures are not expected to be approved until after the 2010 midterm elections in November.
Still, there are indications that the administration will get some of the increases it asked for in its fiscal 2011 budget request, unveiled earlier this year.
For instance, both the House Appropriations subcommittee dealing with education spending and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to continue the Race to the Top program for at least one more year, albeit not at the level the administration initially wanted.
The Obama administration had sought $1.35 billion to continue the competitive grant program in fiscal 2011.The legislation that was approved by a House Appropriations panel last month would offer somewhat less than that amount—$800 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to extend the program for another year, but only at $675 million. And, under the Senate measure, the program would be expanded so districts could apply for Race to the Top grants, as proposed by the administration. It is unclear whether the House bill would also include that language.
If the extension makes it into the final spending bills for fiscal 2011, advocates say, that could mean more states will take the steps emphasized in the Race to the Top program, such as revamping their teacher-evaluation systems and lifting caps on charter schools, in order to get a slice of the competitive grants. States see another opportunity to secure much-needed funding.
“States have demonstrated their commitment to meaningful reform, and Race to the Top will aid states in that effort,” Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, based in Washington, said in an e-mail. “Extending this program will allow for more state winners.”
The additional spending for fiscal 2011 also would include $400 million under the House bill—$100 million less than the president’s request—to extend the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program, which also was created under the recovery act and initially funded at $650 million. The Senate also voted to keep that program in place, at $250 million. The Education Department last week picked 49 recipients for grants under that program, which is meant to scale up promising innovative practices at the district level and which has attracted interest from more than 1,600 districts, school consortia, and non-profits nationwide. (“Education Budget Plan Wielded as Policy Lever,” February 9, 2010.)
The bills would include modest hikes for special education and Title I grants to districts.
Under the House measure, Title I would get $16.2 billion, a little more than the president’s request of $15.9 billion and a roughly 3 percent increase over last year. And the measure would include nearly $13 billion for special education, about a 4 percent boost over last year.
Under the Senate plan, Title I grants for districts would get $14.9 billion, a $450 million increase over fiscal 2010 and the president’s request. Special education state grants would be financed at $11.9 billion, a $420 million increase over fiscal 2010, and $170 million more than the president wanted for fiscal 2011.
The two committees used slightly different calculations in determining total discretionary funding for the Education Department. Under the Senate bill, the department would receive $66.4 billion in fiscal 2011, compared with $67.4 billion in the president’s request. And under the House measure, the Education Department would get $71.9 billion. That’s less than the $73.4 billion the President asked for under the House’s calculation, but an increase over the current year’s $64.3 billion.
Some key programs would be eliminated under the Senate bill, including the $66.5 million Even Start family literacy program, and an $88 million program aimed at creating small learning communities within large schools. Instead, to help support high school redesign, the measure would double the administration’s High School Graduation Initiative, which was created last year to allocate grants aimed at improving graduation rates and financed at $50 million.
A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week