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HOUSE BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF THIS YEAR’S EDUCATION FUNDING BILL: First Version Falls Short of Congressional Promises

Last week, a House appropriations subcommittee approved a spending bill that would provide $55.4 billion for the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal year 2004. While the bill restores funding to most of the 46 education programs that were proposed for elimination in the President’s budget, it still includes $1.1 billion in cuts to education programs and eliminates funding for 10 programs, including a dropout prevention program that helps schools implement effective dropout prevention and re-entry efforts.

The bill also fails to meet many of the spending promises that were made in this year’s congressional budget plan as well as the authorized amounts in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). For Title I, the bill provided $12.35 billion, a $666 million increase, but still $444 million short of the $1 billion increase provided in the congressional budget resolution. This amount is over $6 billion below the amount authorized by theNo Child Left Behind Act for fiscal 2004. Overall, the bill falls more than $9 billion below the level promised by Congress and the President when NCLB was signed into law.

In a bit of good news, the bill restores dramatic cuts made to three programs in the President’s budget-the Smaller Learning Communities program, 21st Century Learning Communities, and vocational education. Funded at $161 million last year, the Smaller Learning Communities program was targeted for elimination by President Bush’s 2004 budget. The program provides school districts with funds to plan, implement or expand smaller learning communities in large high schools of 1,000 students or more with a goal of no more than 600 students in each learning community. The bill reported out of subcommittee not only restores the funding cut, it increases total funding to $175 million.

The 21st Century Learning Communities program (afterschool) received $1 billion in fiscal 2003, but was slated for a 40 percent cut in the President’s budget. The subcommittee’s bill restores the $1 billion and adds a $6.5 million increase. It also rejects substantial cuts proposed by the President for vocation and adult education programs. The subcommittee kept the full amount of $1.2 billion for vocational education and increased adult education by $13 million to $584 million. The bill provides a $7.9 million, or 1 percent increase, for TRIO ($835 million) and a $6.9 million, or 2.4 percent increase, for GEAR UP ($300 million). Both programs have strong track records for helping disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through college.

Overall, the 4.3 percent increase is the smallest percentage increase for education spending in eight years. At the markup, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI) said the bill was a “consequence of the [the Republican-led Congress’] tax-cutting binge.”Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) said that the subcommittee did “the best we could with the hand that was dealt us.”

The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up the bill this week with action on the House floor not likely before the Fourth of July holiday. The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee is also scheduled to mark up its version of the bill this week. Because the spending ceiling for the Senate’s Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill is $445 million below the House ceiling, the Senate totals for education will almost certainly be below the levels reported out of the House subcommittee. Most of the action on the Senate appropriations bill is likely to take place on the Senate floor in the form of amendments to increase funding.

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