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EDUCATION FUNDING BILL PASSES SENATE: Bill Provides Smallest Increase for Education in Eight Years

After successfully fighting back most Democratic amendments to add more money for education, the Senate passed a Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill that would provide only a 5 percent increase over last year. This increase is the smallest percentage increase for education in eight years, despite the fact that the Senate passed amendments that added funding for special education and dropout prevention. An amendment by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) added $1.2 billion for special education to the $1 billion already included in the bill. An amendment bySens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Harry Reid (D-NV) restored half of the already miniscule $10.9 million that was provided for dropout prevention last year.

All other amendments, including a $6.1 billion increase for Title I, were defeated on largely partisan votes before the Senate unanimously approved the final bill by a 94 to 0 vote. The bill will now go to conference where it faces an uncertain future because of a controversial Department of Labor issue on overtime pay.

The largest of the proposed Democratic amendments, a $6.1 billion increase for Title I programs, was defeated 44 to 51. The amendment, offered by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), would have raised funding for Title I to $18.5 billion, the amount Congress and the President agreed to when the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law.

During the week and a half debate on the bill, the Senate also defeated amendments that would have increased funding for rural schools, school repair and renovation, library programs, and afterschool programs. An amendment by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) that would have increased the maximum Pell Grant award by $450 to $4,500 and would have provided $2.2 billion for higher education programs was defeated 46 to 49. For the most part, the amendments were decided on straight party-line votes, with Democrats voting for the increases and Republicans voting against.

Pay for Overtime Could Result in a Veto of the Whole Bill

In addition to education funding, another contentious issue during consideration of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill was a proposal by the Bush administration to expand overtime coverage to low-income workers, but restrict it for many white-collar and other middle-income employees. Democrats immediately attacked the proposal, saying it would eliminate overtime coverage for approximately 8 million workers. For its part, the Labor Department contends that about 644,000 workers would be affected. After the House allowed the President to restrict overtime pay, the Senate went in the other direction and, as part of the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, passed a provision that blocks President’s proposal.

The differences between the two versions will have to be worked out in conference committee among House and Senate members. The President has weighed in strongly and has said he will veto the bill if it maintains the Senate language. To override the veto, both chambers would need a two-thirds vote, which would likely prove difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Educators will have to watch from the sidelines as this issue is played out.

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