Spellings Urged to Be More Aggressive on Funding

By Alyson Klein — March 07, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Senators from both sides of the aisle grilled Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings at a hearing last week over President Bush’s proposed 2007 budget for education, which would slash spending by 3.8 percent while boosting funds for mathematics and science education.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education funding, asked Ms. Spellings to urge her administration colleagues to seek more money for education.

“There’s a real need for someone in your position to be a tough advocate for your department,” Mr. Specter said at the March 1 hearing.

But Secretary Spellings defended the administration’s budget proposal, which was released last month and would cover the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. If approved by Congress, it would amount to the largest percentage cut for Department of Education programs since fiscal 1996. The administration proposes to eliminate 42 programs in the department’s budget, many of which have broad congressional support. (“President’s Budget Would Cut Education Spending,” Feb. 15, 2006.)

Ms. Spellings said the president’s budget proposal would help the federal government rein in overall spending by targeting money toward areas most closely aligned with the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, including the proposed $380 million math and science initiative.

But while both Sen. Specter and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, said they supported Mr. Bush’s goal of increasing support for math and science education, they disagreed with his plan for how to pay for it.

Sen. Specter noted that districts could have a tough time meeting the requirements of the federal school improvement law—the centerpiece of President Bush’s education agenda—without the support of many of the programs slated for elimination.

“A lot of these programs address what we are trying to deal with in No Child Left Behind,” he said, adding that the administration’s proposal amounted to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Tutoring Proposal

Lawmakers from both parties indicated they would champion many of the programs the president placed on the chopping block. Most of them were also slated for elimination last year, but were spared by Congress.

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., called attention to the administration’s proposal to zero out the Perkins vocational education program, which Congress voted overwhelmingly to renew last year. Sen. Specter said he would work to provide money for the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, which help prepare needy students for college. In fiscal 2006, vocational education is receiving $1.18 billion, while GEAR UP is getting $303.4 million.

But Secretary Spellings said that states could still finance those programs under President Bush’s proposal to provide $1.5 billion to improve high school instruction for struggling students. That plan would give states some flexibility in choosing the programs that work best for them, she said.

The president introduced a similar high school initiative last year, but it fell flat in Congress.

Members of the appropriations subcommittee also gave a chilly reception to a Bush administration budget proposal that would provide $100 million to provide summer programs and tutoring services for students whose schools have not made adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law for at least six years.

The administration touts the program as a way for students in such schools to get academic help, without having to transfer to another school.

“It makes more sense,” Ms. Spellings said of the proposal. “Before we ship them off, let’s get them additional remediation.”

But when pressed by Sen. Specter, the secretary acknowledged that high-quality supplemental services might not be available in every school district. Mr. Specter told her that was “not satisfactory.”

Enhanced Pell Grants

Meanwhile, a Democratic lawmaker took the opportunity to grill Ms. Spellings about a matter unrelated to the budget proposal. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state asked how the Education Department planned to determine which students are eligible for extra Pell Grant money provided under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which passed earlier this year. That measure would allow students who take a “rigorous high school curriculum” to receive enhanced Pell Grants. Congress left it up to the secretary to decide which courses would meet that criterion, and critics have worried that the language could give the Education Department broader authority over high school curricula. (“Bill Pushes ‘Rigorous’ Curricula,” Feb. 1, 2006.)

“That’s a great question,” Ms. Spellings said, adding that the department was wrestling with how to implement the provision “while being very respectful of our prohibition ... from prescribing curriculum.”

She said the department had consulted with the National Governors Association and others on the issue and had considered using things that are widely accepted such as Advanced Placement, the International Baccalaureate, and the State Scholars program to implement the program.

But Sen. Murray pointed out that not all students have access to such courses or to the State Scholars program, which is currently offered in 14 states.

“I’m very concerned about a large amount of money going to a few kids who happen to be in the right high school with the right curriculum,” she said.


School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
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.
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

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

Federal Voters Want Republicans and Democrats to Talk About Learning Recovery, Not Culture Wars
A recent Democrats for Education Reform poll shows a disconnect between political candidates and voters on education issues.
4 min read
Image of voting and party lines.
Federal Use Your 'Teacher Voice,' Jill Biden Urges in a Push for Political Activism
Voting in the midterms is a critical step educators can take to bolster democracy, the first lady and other labor leaders told teachers.
5 min read
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston.
First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Federal Federal Initiative Leverages COVID Aid to Expand After-School, Summer Learning
The Education Department's Engage Every Student effort includes partnerships with civic organizations and professional groups.
3 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event on June 2, 2022, at the Department of Education in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event at the Department of Education in Washington in June. The department has announced a push for expanded access to after-school and summer learning programs.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Restraint and Seclusion, and Disability Rights: Ed. Department Has Work to Do, Audit Finds
The Government Accountability Office releases a checklist of how the U.S. Department of Education is performing on a list of priorities.
4 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. The Government Accountability Office has released recommended priorities for the Education Department that target special education rights.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP