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CONGRESS COMES TO AGREEMENT ON BUDGET RESOLUTION: Budget Blueprint Outlines Large Funding Increase for Education Programs

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“This budget provides a fiscally responsible plan for our country,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad

Federal spending on education programs would increase significantly next year under the plan laid out in the fiscal year (FY) 2008 congressional budget resolution that Congress passed on May 17. The resolution provides $9.5 billion more in FY 2008 for education, training, and social services than the amount that President Bush proposed in his budget earlier this year. (More information on President Bush’s budget request is available here)

“This budget provides a fiscally responsible plan for our country,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND). “It balances the budget by 2012. It provides for an extension of middle-class tax cuts. And it funds the nation’s priorities, including a strong national defense, improving veterans’ health care, expanding children’s health care, and increasing our investment in education. We’ve been placed in a deep hole. This plan will begin to dig us out.”

According to Conrad, the federal budget would be balanced by 2012, and would even achieve a surplus that year of $41 billion, under the plan that Congress adopted. The anticipated surplus results from a budget resolution assumption that most of President Bush’s signature tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 will expire on schedule in 2010. However, the resolution does allow popular tax cuts to be extended, including the child tax credit and others that predominantly benefit the middle class.

The congressional budget resolution sets a maximum amount that Congress can allocate overall to agencies for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1; it also provides targets for revenue and projects the surplus or deficit for the next five fiscal years. The resolution serves as a guide for the remainder of the congressional appropriations process, and although it recommends amounts to be spent on various departments, its only binding number is the overall spending cap—$954.1 billion, in this case.

The next step in the process is for the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees to divide the $954.1 billion total among the twelve appropriations subcommittees. They divide this money as they see fit and do not need to adhere to the specific recommendations laid out in the budget resolution for individual areas of spending. Thus, the additional $9.5 billion for education, training, and social programs recommended as part of the resolution may change, but with a higher overall spending cap, it remains likely that education will receive increases over past years.

$21 Billion Difference in Overall Spending Cap Likely to be Point of Contention Between Congress and President Bush

The $954.1 billion spending ceiling for FY 2008 that the congressional budget resolution provides is about $21 billion more than was included in the president’s proposed budget. This large difference will likely become an issue as individual appropriations bills are passed by Congress and sent to the White House for the president’s signature. Already, Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has said that he would recommend a veto for any spending bills that exceed the president’s budget request.

“The new Democratic majorities are standing by their misguided plans for tax hikes and big spending increases,” Portman said in a statement. “Tax and spend is no way to balance the budget. It jeopardizes continued economic growth and job creation. And it means that taxpayers will be sending more of their hard-earned money to Washington.”

Conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives are already working to gain support for the president’s position. As of last week, 115 Republicans have signed a letter pledging to support the president should he decide to veto any appropriations bill. To override a presidential veto, a two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is required. In order to prevent a veto override, then, House Republicans would need at least 146 votes in support of the veto. To date, Republican moderates and most Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have yet to sign the letter, although some have said that they would consider voting for an override on a case-by-case basis.

Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), for instance, who last year led an effort by House Republican moderates to add funding to the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill, said that he would not sign the letter at this point. “I’m going to look at each of these bills individually,” he said. “I would worry about signing something like that just because of the enormity of the numbers.”

A May 21 article in Roll Call, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill, reported that some Republicans may find it difficult to vote against increased spending for education, health care, and other popular domestic programs—especially since those programs have seen few spending increases over the last few years.

“I think some of the cuts [Bush] proposed in [the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill] are overly optimistic,” said Representative Jim Walsh (R-NY), who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

In addition, the article notes that Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), another member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that Republicans should not have complied with the president’s request in previous years. Simpson also said that he expected many Republicans to vote to override any presidential vetoes, particularly on bills that provide increased funding for education and health care. “If the president vetoes those things, then he vetoes them,” he said. “We need to do what we think is right.”

 

MOVING FORWARD ON NCLB REAUTHORIZATION: House Education Committee Hears Concerns and Ideas from Non-Committee Members on NCLB ReauthorizationOn May 16, members of the House Education and Labor Committee held a bipartisan meeting to hear recommendations and concerns from other members of Congress on ways to improve the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Among those making presentations were the leaders of the House caucuses representing Asian Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, conservatives, and moderate Republicans.“Our committee is committed to working in an open and collaborative way to improve the No Child Left Behind law,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “Just like the people they represent, members of Congress have diverse views about the law, including concerns about how it could work better. But it’s clear that we all share the goal of making sure that every child is able to succeed in school, and we will work together to achieve that goal.”

Miller acknowledged that some of the ideas shared at the meeting would require a dramatic overhaul of the law but said that he was willing to incorporate some of the recommendations in the reauthorization. “There will be very substantial changes,” he told Education Week. “There are portions of this bill that simply aren’t working. That’s what reauthorization is about. It’s not just about standing pat.”

Education Week also reported that a change to the method for calculating Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for schools and districts was discussed. One idea would allow schools and districts to consider student academic growth and to include other factors besides test scores when calculating AYP. These “growth models,” as they are called, give schools credit for student improvement over time by tracking individual student achievement from year to year. Other topics covered at the hearing included how to assess students with disabilities on the basis of their progress toward meeting goals in their individual education programs, and how to determine whether teachers are highly qualified other than by the types of credentials that they have.

“The amount of interest we saw today—from both sides of the aisle—reaffirms this law’s impact and the depth of support for closing the achievement gap,” said Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the Education and Labor Committee’s senior Republican member. “I appreciated hearing my colleagues’ varying perspectives on what Congress should address during this year’s reauthorization. Their comments and recommendations will be taken into serious consideration as we move forward.”

The House Education and Labor Committee could begin considering a draft reauthorization bill as early as June. In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) also hopes to have a reauthorization bill ready for consideration by summer.

Chairman Miller’s press release about the meeting is available athttp://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/RelMay16NCLB.html.

Miller Signals Support for Change on NCLB” is available at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/05/23/38nclb.h26.html. (Registration required)

 

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