A clearer picture is emerging of what federal programs stand to gain the most, and the least, as spending bills that promise a big hike for the Department of Education’s budget make their way through Congress.
Title I and special education would see some of the largest increases under the House and Senate appropriations bills. Other winners include programs for reading and teacher quality.
Not every program is so lucky. For example, despite several high-profile incidents of school violence the past few years, the budget for the safe-schools program would be flatlined under both bills. And the fate of some other initiatives, such as a school renovation program, remains unclear, as the bill in one chamber would fund them and the other would not.
The House last Thursday approved what would be a record-breaking $7 billion increase for the Education Department in fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1, bringing discretionary funding for the agency up to $49.3 billion. That funding was included as part of a larger spending bill, passed 373-43, that also covers the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The same day, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its own version of the spending plan, providing a slightly lower increase of $6.3 billion for the Education Department. Congress is expected to complete the appropriations process well before Thanksgiving.
Both proposals represent a notable bump from President Bush’s original request for the department. Mr. Bush called for $44.5 billion, an increase of $2.3 billion. His education budget plan met with considerable criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The White House and congressional leaders recently agreed to raise the spending ceiling for this fiscal year, settling on an extra $4 billion for education above the president’s request—precisely the spending level in the Senate’s current version of the bill.
With that deal in hand, and what is known as a “continuing resolution” allowing them to haggle beyond the start of the fiscal year, Senate and House appropriators set to work on education spending bills this month.
Asked whether he was comfortable with the spending level for education in the Senate committee bill, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., replied: “I think, as they said in the show ‘Oklahoma!,’ ... we’ve gone about as far as we can go.” Mr. Specter is the ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the education budget.
But just before that Senate subcommittee voted on Oct. 10, its chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would push for more education money elsewhere. The two main targets are an economic-stimulus package Congress is hoping to pass this fall and a controversial proposal—under debate as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—to shift special education spending from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the budget, where increases could be locked in and other funds freed up for education.
The Title I program for disadvantaged students, which has seen relatively sluggish budget growth in recent years, is set for a substantial increase. The House bill would provide an extra $1.7 billion for fiscal 2002, bringing the total to $10.5 billion. The Senate committee’s plan would provide an additional $1.4 billion.
Special education grants to states would increase by $1.4 billion in the House, to $7.7 billion; the Senate plan would provide an extra $1 billion.
Other programs that would see increases include:
- Teacher quality: $3.2 billion in the House; $3 billion in the Senate, up from $2.2 billion;
- Reading: $975 million in both bills, up from $286 million; and
- After-school programs: $1 billion in both chambers, up from $846 million.
On the other hand, both bills would freeze funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program at $644 million. The program issues grants to support prevention of violence and drug abuse.
Both bills appear to be modeled on the respective Senate and House versions of the ESEA, which a 39-member conference committee is trying to complete work on this year. If the ESEA gets done, any final spending bill would have to be adjusted to reflect the revised law.
One striking contrast in the two bills regards school repair. The Senate version would provide $925 million for school renovation projects, down slightly from the $1.2 billion provided in fiscal 2001. The House version would zero out the program.
However, even if funding for school repair is excluded, some lobbyists and lawmakers see the upcoming economic-stimulus package as another avenue.
“We think it not only helps schools, but it’s a great stimulus program,” said an aide to Sen. Harkin, who indicated that the Iowa Democrat was working with the Appropriations Committee’s chairman, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. to get it into the stimulus package.