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EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS: U.S. Department of Education Would Receive Slight Funding Increase Under Senate Committee Bill; Final Action Not Expected Until After November Elections

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“This bill trains and protects American workers, provides the nation’s youth with the skills they need to succeed, funds life-saving medical research, and targets fraud and abuse.”

The U.S. Department of Education would receive $45.7 billion in discretionary funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 under the appropriations bill that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed on June 14. The total, which does not include Pell Grants, is a slight increase of approximately $400 million compared to last year and is $1.3 billion less than President Obama requested in his FY 2013 budget in February. The action by the Senate Appropriations Committee is a single step in a long process. Final FY 2013 funding levels for education programs are not expected until after the November elections.

“This bill trains and protects American workers, provides the nation’s youth with the skills they need to succeed, funds life-saving medical research, and targets fraud and abuse,” said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Under the Senate committee’s bill, Title I, which would receive $14.62 billion, and special education state grants, which would receive $11.68 billion, would each receive a $100 million increase compared to last year. Promise Neighborhoods, a competitive grant program that awards funding to nonprofit, community-based organizations that work in high-poverty areas to improve educational and life outcomes, would receive a $20 million increase, from $60 million to $80 million. Additionally, Statewide Data Systems would receive a $15 million increase, from $38 million to $53 million.

The School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, which targets the nation’s lowest-performing schools, would receive $534 million, the same as last year. In exchange for receiving SIG funding, a school must implement one of four school improvement models: (1) transformation, in which a school must replace the school principal and implement three other specific reforms; (2) turnaround, which is similar to transformation with the primary difference being that the school could rehire no more than 50 percent of the school staff; (3) restart, which requires the school to become a charter or privately managed school; or (4) school closure.

Referencing recent research reports on the SIG program, the Senate bill notes that local capacity, such as the ability to attract and retain administrative staff with school turnaround expertise or high-quality teachers, “influenced” implementation and made SIG interventions “challenging” for low-capacity districts. Consequently, the Senate bill includes new language that would add a research-proven, whole-school reform model as a fifth option, making it possible for schools to partner with programs that work on school turnaround.

Among programs serving middle and high school students, Striving Readers and the High School Graduation Initiative would each receive the same funding amounts as last year, $160 million and $49 million, respectively. Career and technical education state grants would receive $1.12 billion, which is also the same as last year. TRIO and GEAR UP programs were also level-funded, at $840 million and $302 million, respectively.

Race to the Top would receive $549 million under the bill, the same as last year, but less than the $850 million that President Obama requested in his budget. Originally, the program was set to receive a $50 million increase, but an amendment by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), top Republican on the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, transferred $50 million from Race to the Top to the Math and Science Partnerships program.

“In my home state of Alabama, federal funds from the Math and Science Partnerships program have helped finance the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, which is a leading model for math and science education reform nationwide,” Shelby said in a statement . “A recent Department of Education–funded study found that students who attended schools taught by teachers that participated in this initiative made gains that compare to an average of twenty-eight extra days of schooling in math.”

Shelby’s amendment would boost funding for math and science partnerships from $99 million to $150 million. Had the program been funded below $100 million, Shelby pointed out, money would have been distributed on a competitive basis to select states, rather than on a formula basis to every state.

The Senate committee’s bill would also increase the maximum Pell Grant award from $5,550 to $5,635, the first increase since the 2010–11 school year. Harkin also noted that the bill includes a new provision that would ban colleges or universities from using federal educational resources on marketing, recruitment, and advertising.

“At a time when budgets are tight and students and families across the nation are struggling, taxpayer dollars that are intended for higher education should be focused on helping low- and middle-income students pursue an academic degree,” Harkin said. “Colleges and universities will still be free to spend however much they want on marketing, recruiting, and advertising. They just shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars that are intended for student aid to do so.”

It is unknown when the bill will go to the Senate floor for consideration. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Appropriations Committee has yet to take up its version of the bill and is not expected to do so until early- to mid-July at the earliest.

Funding levels for all education programs as allocated by the Senate Appropriations Committee are available at here. The table also includes funding levels from FY 2012 and as proposed in President Obama’s FY 2013 budget.

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