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BUDGET SHOWDOWN 2007: New Issue Brief Examines Facts Behind Education Funding

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"One could argue against proposed increased spending on education because of concerns about program effectiveness, efficiency, or value, but any attempt to single out education spending as the main driver of a federal budget that some believe has become too large would be misguided."

As noted in the article above, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 appropriations process is already a contentious one which is likely to get even more heated, mainly because of philosophical differences on spending. Democrats generally seek to increase spending for health and education programs while Republicans generally want to hold the line on spending so as to appear fiscally conservative. However, according to Budget Showdown 2007: The Facts Behind Education Funding, a new issue brief from the New America Foundation, recent increases in education and other domestic spending are not to blame for what some see as a bloated federal budget. Instead, the brief finds, increases in discretionary spending from FY 2001 to FY 2006 have been driven primarily by defense and other “war on terror” spending.

“Although Congress plans a significant increase in federal spending on schools, teachers, and students-the most significant this decade when considering discretionary and mandatory sources-education funding has not been a driver of recent increase in federal spending and the contemplated increase is relatively minor with respect to the overall budget,” the brief reads. “One could argue against proposed increased spending on education because of concerns about program effectiveness, efficiency, or value, but any attempt to single out education spending as the main driver of a federal budget that some believe has become too large would be misguided.”

The brief notes that discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education increased between FY 2001 and FY 2003 but has been relatively flat over the last four fiscal years. As the brief points out, federal discretionary funding for education has decreased over the last four years when inflation is taken into account. In fact, there was only a 1.6 percent increase in funding for the department from FY 2004 to FY 2007, a time when annual inflation averaged around 2 percent.

This year, House and Senate appropriations bills for education range from $60.1 billion in the Senate to $62.8 billion in the House, representing a significant $3 to $5 billion increase over FY 2007. According to the brief, if final spending totals fall in this range, it would represent the largest increase for education since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001. However, the bills are also $4 to $6 billion higher than President Bush proposed in his budget. Consequently, he has issued veto threats on both.

The brief notes that spending on international and defense programs grew at a much faster rate than on domestic ones. It finds that, between FY 2001 and FY 2006, discretionary spending on defense and international programs increased by 69 percent, or $231.3 billion. Domestic expenditures, on the other hand, only represent 31 percent of the increase in the overall budget. Breaking domestic spending down even further, the New America Foundation finds that increases in education spending only account for 5.5 percent of the total. And even if the proposed increases for FY 2008 were enacted, spending for the U.S. Department of Education will still make up only 5 percent of all discretionary spending and less than 3 percent of the overall federal budget.

In examining the desires of the president versus the Congress on spending, the brief points out that the $23 billion difference between the two only equals 2 percent of discretionary spending and eight tenths of 1 percent (0.8 percent) of the total federal budget. It also compares that difference to recent increases in military spending. “The president recently increased his request for supplemental war spending to $193 billion for fiscal year 2008, an increase of $42 billion-almost twice the amount that the domestic discretionary funding fight is over,” the brief reads.

The release event featured Peter Cohn, budget and appropriations reporter for Congress DailyBarbara Chow, policy director for the U.S. House of Representatives Budget CommitteeHeather Rieman, the author of the report and a policy analyst with the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation; and Jason Delisle, research director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation.

The complete brief, as well as video from the release event, is available athttp://www.newamerica.net/events/2007/education_and_federal_budget_showdown.

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