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The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that authorizes K-12 programs for the next five years and the Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill are still before Congress. The two bills differ in that the ESEA bill does not allocate money; it only lays out the structure of the programs and sets a spending ceiling, or authorized level, for each program in the bill. The appropriations bill is an annual occurrence and serves as the vehicle through which Congress decides how much money it is actually willing to allocate for each of the federal education programs.

Neither the U.S. House of Representatives nor the U.S. Senate were in session the week of Nov. 19-23 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Both chambers will be back in session on Tuesday, Nov. 27. The conference committee on ESEA could meet as early as Wednesday, Nov. 28, but the conference committee on the Fiscal Year 2002 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill is not expected to meet until early December. Education programs are currently being funded under a continuing resolution.

Did You Know?

A continuing resolution (CR) is a temporary funding measure that allows Congress to extend the time to pass spending bills and send them to the President for his signature. Continuing resolutions only fund the programs for which no annual appropriation bill has been signed into law by the President. A CR remains in effect until it is superceded by a signed appropriation bill, or until it expires and a new CR is passed. If Congress has still not passed all the appropriations bills by the time they recess for the year, a long-term CR that extends into next year is very possible.

The Senate version of the ESEA reauthorization (Senate HR 1) proposes a $14.067 billion increase for K-12 programs. The House has proposed an increase of $5.231 billion in its version of the bill (House HR 1). These bills represent the amounts that the House and Senate education committees agree is needed to sufficiently fund the new legislation. The attached graph reflects the difference between the education committees suggested increase and the appropriations committees actual allocation of funds for this fiscal year.

On Friday, November 16, the Democratic staff of the Senate and House Committees on Education released a report entitled “Education in Crisis: The State Budget Crunch and Our Nation’s Schools.” The report argues that the continuing improvement of our nation’s schools “could well rest on the actions of Congress and the White House over the next few weeks” as they meet to discuss the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. In the report, Democrats argue for more federal funding and point out that the weak economy has forced states to cut an estimated $11.3 billion nationally from their fiscal 2002 school budgets. These cuts have come in the form of teacher layoffs, textbook cut backs, the elimination of teacher training, the postponement of school modernization, and the inclusion of more children into already cramped classrooms.

As seen in the attached graph, both the House and Senate have appropriated spending increases over last year’s funding levels, but neither bill met the Senate $14.07 billion increase authorized in the five-year ESEA bill. The original Bush budget came in far behind Congressional spending levels and called for only a $460 million increase over last year’s totals.

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