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Stopgap Spending Bill Severs Array of Education Programs

By Alyson Klein — March 03, 2011 4 min read
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The stopgap federal spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday almost certainly spells the end of federal funding for more than a dozen education programs, at least for two weeks, quite possibly for good.

The bill would scrap all federal funding for the current year for a number of programs that were considered “earmarks” under congressional rules, because they got non-competitive funds, directed just for them. Some senators protested on behalf of the groups, but it may have been too late—the cuts went through anyway.

The list of funding cuts includes:

National Writing Project—$25.6 million Teach for America—$18 million Reading is Fundamental—$24.8 million National Board for Professional Teaching Standards—$10.7 million New Leaders for New Schools—$5 million Arts in Education—$40 million We the People—$21.6 million Close Up fellowships—$1.9 million Exchanges With Historic Whaling and Trading Partners—$8.6 million Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity program—$3 million B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarships—nearly $1 million

The programs could get money from the department under other funding streams. But more likely than not, most of them aren’t going to get any more funding from the feds, possibly forever.

Some of the organizations on the list that have gotten funding, such as New Leaders for New Schools, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains principals to work in underresourced schools, have other sources of funding besides the federal government.

But some depend heavily on federal money for their very survival, including the National Writing Project. That organization gets about 50 percent of its funding from the feds. And the other 50 percent comes from local matching grants from colleges and universities that participate in the program. Most of those institutions are strapped for cash right now, in the face of major state and local cutbacks, said Sharon Washington, the National Writing Project’s executive director.

“I would love for the Writing Project to continue,” Washington told me. But while she and her staff will “work to do all things possible, we’re very aware of the fact that, without the federal investment, it will be a challenge.”

The program, based in Berkeley, Calif., helps teachers learn how to work with their colleagues to improve writing instruction. Technically, the organization could still get some federal funding from the department through the Fund for the Improvement of Education, a discretionary pot.

But that program has also been hit. It was financed at $125.4 million in fiscal year 2010, but is now down to $37.3 million.

And getting that money may be tough. “They have given us no indication that they would be able to provide that kind of funding,” Washington said.

Even Teach For America, a high-profile nonprofit based in New York City that attracts a lot of non-federal financial support, will feel the loss of federal dollars. The organization had projected that its 2011 corps would be around 5,400 teachers, said Carrie James, a spokeswoman for TFA. Now, they’re expecting that number to be closer to 5,000, which means that 25,000 fewer students in high-poverty communities will have TFA teachers next year, she explained.

(It’s important to note that the cut wouldn’t affect TFA’s $50 million federal grant under the Investing in Innovation fund, which will be spent out over five years and was intended to grow the organization.)

With the cuts in the stopgap spending measure, the U.S. Department of Education’s entire discretionary budget (not including Pell Grants) drops from $46.6 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $45.9 billion in the current fiscal year. That’s about a 1.6 percent cut. (Check out this link for a full, very detailed chart.)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was reserved in his response to the cuts.

“We appreciate Congress’ action, but, as the president has made clear, we need a long-term budget that cuts spending responsibly while investing for the future,” he said in a statement e-mailed shortly after the bill’s final passage.

As we’ve mentioned before, the bill also cuts two other literacy programs, both of which President Obama had wanted to consolidate into a broader, $383 million funding stream aimed at improving reading and writing. Those are Striving Readers, a comprehensive literacy program funded at $250 million, and Even Start, a $67 million family-literacy program. (In addition, funding for the National Writing Project and Reading Is Fundamental was to be bundled into that new “Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy” fund under Obama’s plan.) With funding for all of these programs wiped away, that doesn’t leave much left for the president’s proposed new literacy fund.

Meanwhile, two other programs were also scrapped: the $88 million for Smaller Learning Communities, which was supposed to become part of a broader stream aimed at improving educational options, and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships or LEAP, college access program, financed at $64 million.

Some budget background: The stopgap measure, which is meant to give Democrats and Republicans more time to hammer out their differences on spending, funds most programs, such as Title I grants to districts, at last year’s levels.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the House approved a longer-term spending bill that would fund the government through Sept. 30, but would mean even more cuts to education—about $5 billion worth.

The Senate will have to figure how to compromise with the House on that legislation, or find another way to temporarily extend funding again. Otherwise, there will be a government shutdown.