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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Congress Begins Work on FY 2012 Funding for U.S. Department of Education as New Fiscal Year Begins

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Harkin said he believes that the bill “preserves this subcommittee’s top priority: every American deserves the right to a good education and job skills training; protection from illness and want; and an equal opportunity to reach one’s highest potential.”

Because Congress failed to pass any spending bills prior to the start of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on October 1, it was necessary to clear a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government through October 4 and provide Congress with more time to negotiate a long-term solution. During the week of October 3, Congress is expected to clear another CR that will keep the government running through November 18.

In the meantime, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees finally began work on the appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education. On September 20, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that would provide $45.47 billion, excluding Pell Grants, in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education. That amount is about $80 million more than what was approved for FY 2011, but $3.36 billion less than the amount requested by President Obama in his FY 2012 budget. (Funding levels for all education programs as proposed by the Senate subcommittee and requested by President Obama in his FY 2012 budget are available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget12/12action.pdf).

Among the highlights of the bill is $183 million for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, funding that will help states implement statewide literacy programs that focus on students from birth through twelfth grade.

The bill would maintain funding for Title I at last year’s level of $14.46 billion. It would also maintain funding for School Improvement Grants (SIG) and the High School Graduation Initiative at $543.6 million and $48.9 million, respectively. Race to the Top would receive $698.6 million, the same as last year, but less than the $900 million the president requested in his budget. It would maintain funding for Statewide Data Systems at $42.2 million, which is less than the $100 million the president requested in his budget.

In crafting the bill, which also funds the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and related agencies, Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said that budget constraints made the task “particularly difficult.” Still, Harkin said he believes that the bill “preserves this subcommittee’s top priority: every American deserves the right to a good education and job skills training; protection from illness and want; and an equal opportunity to reach one’s highest potential.”

On September 29, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft of its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill . The bill would reduce funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $2.4 billion compared to last year’s levels and eliminates funding for more than thirty programs, including Race to the Top, SIG, and the High School Graduation Initiative. The bill would increase funding for Title I by $1 billion and special education by $1.2 billion.

With precious little time remaining between now and November 18, it is expected that legislators will be forced to roll many, if not all, of the twelve appropriations bills into an omnibus bill. So far, the House has passed six appropriations bills while the Senate has passed only one.

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