Federal spending for disadvantaged students would double and support for special education programs would also increase significantly in a new U.S. Senate appropriations bill proposed for fiscal 2022.
In addition, the Senate’s funding bid for the U.S. Department of Education would boost spending on school-based mental health professionals, rural education, and improving states’ academic assessments. It would increase total discretionary aid to the Education Department to $98.4 billion, a $24.9 billion increase from the current fiscal year.
The bill, unveiled by Senate Democrats on Monday, has a slightly smaller overall total for the Education Department than a House proposal from earlier this year; House lawmakers have enacted their own spending bill with a top-line figure for the department that tops $100 billion.
Yet even if there’s ultimately some sort of a compromise between the two chambers on spending, the senators’ legislation signals that Congress is amenable to a huge increase for the department as schools continue to deal with the pandemic’s affects.
Democratic lawmakers have consistently cited the hardships for students and educators caused by COVID-19 as justification for ramping up spending on public schools. “Our focus needs to be on ensuring our country can come back better from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement announcing the legislation and citing its dramatic increase for public schools. (Murray leads the Senate subcommittee that deals with annual education spending.)
Republicans have argued that instead of spending more money on existing programs, families should be given more educational options. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the Senate appropriations committee’s ranking member, said in a statement that this and other spending bills from Senate Democrats (who control the chamber) are “reckless domestic spending” that would shortchange national defense.
Exactly when Congress will adopt new appropriations for fiscal 2022 remains to be seen. Although fiscal year 2022 started Oct. 1, lawmakers enacted a measure to extend fiscal 2021 spending levels for the federal government until Dec. 3.
Here are a few highlights from the Senate appropriations bill for the department:
- Title I aid for disadvantaged students would rise to $33.1 billion, an increase of $16.6 billion.
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants to states would rise to $15.5 billion, an increase of about $2.6 billion.
- The bill would provide $820 million to boost the number of mental-health professionals in schools; the funding would be included in a Safe Schools National Activities program. It’s part of a proposed $1 billion School Based Health Professionals program.
- Full-Service Community Schools funding would rise to $400 million, an increase of $370 million.
- Education Innovation and Research would get $270 million, an increase of about $70 million.
- State grants to improve the quality of their academic assessments would get $58.8 million, an increase of $50 million.
- The Education Department’s office for civil rights would get $144 million, an increase of $13 million.
- One notable split between the House and Senate concerns the Charter School Program, which is designed to support the creation and expansion of successful charters. The Senate bill would provide $440 million, the same as in fiscal 2021. The House bill would cut funding for the program to $400 million. The Senate committee’s report on its new spending bill also expresses concern about inadequate staffing levels and oversight at the office that oversees the Charter School Program.
Meanwhile, the bill would set Head Start spending in the Department of Health and Human Services at $11.9 billion, an increase of nearly $1.2 billion.
And it would increase spending on Preschool Development Grants by $175 million, for a total funding level of $450 million.