In the end, Reading First went with barely a whimper, as the controversial reading program was zeroed out in the $410 billion fiscal 2009 federal spending measure signed by President Barack Obama last week.
Reading First was among a handful of high-profile education items in the long-overdue budget for the current fiscal year, which also provides modest boosts for Title I grants to districts and spending for students in special education, while taking aim at the District of Columbia voucher program.
The spending measure will hike the U.S. Department of Education’s budget to $66.5 billion, up from just over $62 billion in fiscal 2008, a 7 percent increase.
The measure, which covers the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, includes $14.5 billion in Title I grants to districts for the education of disadvantaged students, a 4.3 percent increase. And it includes $11.5 billion for special education state grants, a 5.5 percent boost.
That’s on top of the $10 billion and $11.7 billion, respectively, that Title I and special education state grants received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the recently passed economic-stimulus package.
It’s unclear whether the new administration and Congress will conceive a program to replace Reading First, which, at its height, received $1 billion annually.
Reports by the Education Department’s inspector general in 2006 and 2007 suggested some federal officials and contractors involved in implementing the program had conflicts of interest.
Jon Schnur, a consultant to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said last week that there will be “a real commitment to early reading” in Mr. Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget, to be released in detail next month.
The 2009 budget measure could also spell the beginning of the end for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A provision states that this will be the last year for its funding, unless Congress reuthorizes it.
Chances of renewal by that the Democratically-controlled Congress are seen as slim.
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2009 edition of Education Week