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CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: Education Funding Cut By $100 Million, But Bill Restores Funding for Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program

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“Some of the cuts will be painful and unpopular. But I believe this bill still preserves this subcommittee’s top priority: that 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 December 23, 2011, President Obama signed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 spending bill that will provide $45.29 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education, a decrease of $100 million compared to FY 2011 and $3.5 billion less than the amount Obama requested in his FY 2012 budget. The bill is a part of an omnibus spending bill that includes nine regular appropriations bills and totals $915 billion in discretionary spending.1

“Reaching a compromise on this bill was extraordinarily difficult,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “Some of the cuts will be painful and unpopular. But I believe this bill still preserves this subcommittee’s top priority: that 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.”

Although the bill includes many spending cuts, it contains an unexpected gain in the restored funding for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy (SRCL) program, which promotes literacy from birth through grade twelve.

Originally instituted by President George W. Bush as a program targeting struggling readers in middle and high school, the SRCL program was reconfigured in 2010 to provide broad support to states in placing literacy at the center of strategies to improve educator effectiveness and school performance. In 2010, states received $10 million each in formula grants to convene a literacy leadership team to draft literacy plans with a broad group of stakeholders, which resulted in plans underway by forty-eight states. In 2011, six states—Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas—shared $180 million in discretionary grants to implement their plans in local school districts. (See box below for a recent Alliance webinar on this subject.) As part of an agreement on final spending levels for FY 2011, Congress eliminated funding for the program. However, under the bill signed by the president last month, the SRCL program will receive $160 million in FY 2012.

“My reaction is one of gratitude and surprise,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president of federal advocacy for the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Like anything else in life, once something is gone, it’s hard to get it back. This program is just getting under way, so to cut it before it has a chance to demonstrate results didn’t make a lot of sense.”

In addition to the SRCL program, competitive programs—favored by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan but opposed by some members of Congress who favored formula programs—will also receive funding when some predicted they would not. Specifically, the School Improvement Grant program for states will receive $534 million; Investing in Innovation will receive $149 million; and Race to the Top will receive $549 million, which is much less than the $900 million that Obama requested in his budget and the nearly $700 million it received in FY 2011. This year, school districts, as well as states, will be eligible to apply for Race to the Top funding.

Among the larger, more established programs in the bill, Title I will receive $14.5 billion, an increase of about $74 million and special education state grants will receive $11.6 billion, an increase of about $112 million.

The bill supports funding for other programs as well; the High School Graduation Initiative will receive $49 million; career and technical state grants will receive $1.1 billion; TRIO will receive $840 million; GEAR UP will receive $302 million; and Statewide Data Systems will receive $38 million.

The fact that Republicans and Democrats in Congress were able to come to an agreement on a final bill for the U.S. Department of Education, as well as other departments and agencies, was seen as a positive step by many of the legislators involved in the negotiations.

“With the exception of the Department of Defense, all of these agencies have been running on a continuing resolution for well over a year now,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) on December 17, when the agreement was announced. “This must stop. It is no way to run a government, particularity one that must learn to do more with less. How can an agency be more efficient when it is operating under budget plans that were developed two or even three years ago? … If the Senate passes this measure and the president signs it into law, we will have succeeded in enacting each of our bills prior to end of the calendar year for the first time since 2009.”

A complete list of funding totals for programs under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Education is available here.

1The omnibus bill includes the following appropriations bills: Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Homeland Security; Interior and Environment; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs; and State-Foreign Operations.

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