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FUNDING FIGHTS: House and Senate Spending Bills Cut Billions of Dollars in Funding for Federal Education Programs, Draw Aggressive Response from Obama Administration

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Due to the wide differences between President Obama and congressional Republicans, the next step for the spending bills is unclear, with Senate Democrats holding up additional work on appropriations until Republicans agree to negotiate a budget deal that would increase funding for defense as well as domestic priorities such as education.

Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 spending bills that would cut discretionary funding—excluding Pell Grants—for the U.S. Department of Education by $2.4 billion and $1.36 billion, respectively, compared to FY15. Under President Obama’s FY16 budget request, funding would increase by $3.61 billion.Congressional Spending Bill

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill would provide a $150 million increase for Title I, which targets funding to low-income school districts, and boost funding for special education by $125 million. The House bill would maintain funding for Title I at the previous year’s level, but it would increase funding for special education by $500 million.

Proposed funding levels for a sample of education programs targeting middle and high school students are outlined in the table below. For proposed funding levels for every program under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Education, visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget16/16action.pdf.

Program By FY

“This bill prioritizes programs that will provide a significant benefit to all Americans including providing the National Institutes of Health with a $2 billion increase to focus on advancing medical treatments, Precision Medicine and research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer,” said U.S. Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Although they were pleased with the increases for medical research, Senate Democrats voted against the bill for its significant cuts to other domestic priorities, including education.

“While I appreciate Chairman Blunt’s interest in increasing research investments, this bill would make deep cuts to middle class priorities like health care, education, job training, worker protection programs, women’s health, and more,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized Republicans for proposing cuts to programs such as early childhood education and Investing in Innovation that are “most important for transforming students’ lives,” Duncan said in a video he posted to Twitter. “At a time when we need to keep getting better faster, … Republicans in both the House and the Senate in Congress … are talking about cutting education funding by literally billions of dollars from what the president is proposing.”

Duncan’s video was part of an aggressive campaign by the Obama administration against the Republican spending bills, which are based on levels set by the 2011 budget deal, also known as sequestration, and locked in by the budget plan that the U.S. Congress adopted in May. Under the plan, overall discretionary spending for FY16 can rise by less than 1 percent, creating a scenario in which a funding increase for one program often translates into a funding cut for another program.

“Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms,” wrote Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY). “The Republicans’ 2016 budget framework would bring base discretionary funding for both nondefense and defense to the lowest levels in a decade, adjusted for inflation. Compared to the president’s budget, the cuts would result in tens of thousands of the nation’s most vulnerable children losing access to high-quality early education, millions fewer workers receiving job training and employment services, efforts to improve schools and support teachers being undermined, with other impacts that would hurt the economy, the middle class, and Americans working hard to reach the middle class.”

Due to the wide differences between President Obama and congressional Republicans, the next step for the spending bills is unclear, with Senate Democrats holding up additional work on appropriations until Republicans agree to negotiate a budget deal that would increase funding for defense as well as domestic priorities such as education.

Absent a broader budget compromise that would lift spending levels, Congress will likely have to pass a series of temporary funding mechanisms, or “continuing resolutions,” to avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year begins on October 1.

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