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HOUSE BEGINS WORK ON FY 2010 APPROPRIATIONS: Subcommittee Shoots Down Obama Proposal to Shift Title I Funds to School Improvement

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“The nation’s middle and high school students made great headway from the subcommittee’s decision to provide over $300 million for literacy priorities, including $146 for the Striving Readers program, as well as the decision to provide $50 million for a high school dropout prevention initiative.”

On July 10, the House Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee began work on a Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 appropriations bill by the same name that funds the U.S. Department of Education. As reported out of the committee, FY 2010 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill would provide $64.2 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education.

Representative Dave Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and full House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that drafting the bill was a “challenging task” and “will not make everyone happy.” In what Obey called “one of the most difficult issues” before the subcommittee, a decision was made not to fund President Obama’s proposal to shift $1.5 billion out of Title I funding and into Early Childhood Grants ($500 million) and School Improvement Grants ($1 billion). Instead, the subcommittee left Title I funding unchanged at $14.5 billion, the same amount it received in FY 2009. The subcommittee’s decision was not a complete surprise as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had faced pointed questions on the proposal in appearances before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees last month.

Obey noted that the appropriations bill would maintain base funding of $545 million for School Improvement Grants and, when combined with the money for the program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, would represent “an unprecedented $4 billion for these grants that target assistance to the approximately 13,000 low-performing schools.” He added that providing even larger sums in a single year “would simply outstrip the ability of states and districts to use the funds effectively and wisely.”

Under the Obama proposal, the extra $1 billion for School Improvement Grants came with a caveat that states would have to ensure that 40 percent of the funds were spent on improvement activities in middle and high schools. According to an FY 2010 budget summary provided by the U.S. Department of Education, this caveat reflects the administration’s “determination to take immediate action to begin addressing the factors that contribute to the high school dropout crisis in American education.”

In a May 7 conference call with education reporters, Duncan said that Title I is not focused enough on “fundamentally reducing the dropout rate and challenging the status quo and those dropout factors.” He said a priority was to make sure that middle and high schools get their “fair share of these desperately needed resources,” adding that “focusing not just on the younger children, but on middle school and high school is hugely important to us.”

A chief example of schools that are not serving their students are the nation’s “dropout factories,” the approximately two thousand high schools—identified by Johns Hopkins University researchers—that graduate 60 percent or fewer of each entering ninth-grade class.

In a statement in response to the subcommittee’s action, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, called dropout factories the “low-hanging fruit in the effort to boost the national graduation rate,” adding that those schools account for less than 15 percent of the nation’s high schools, yet produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts and nearly 75 percent of minority dropouts.

“While I understand the subcommittee’s desire to restore another $1 billion for Title I rather than fund the School Improvement Grants,” Wise said, “the unfortunate reality is that little Title I funding will reach the high schools that are in desperate need of additional resources. Currently, only about 10 percent of Title I dollars go to high schools.”

Although the subcommittee chose not to fund Obama’s proposal to shift Title I funds, it did provide funding for a number of his other education reforms. For example, the bill would provide $50 million for a High School Graduation Initiative, which would provide grants to school districts to support effective, sustainable, and coordinated strategies that will increase high school graduation rates, particularly in dropout factories—and their feeder schools. It would also provide over $300 million for new approaches to improve reading, including $146 million for the Striving Readers program, which focuses on improving the literacy skills of adolescent students who read below grade level.

“The nation’s middle and high school students made great headway from the subcommittee’s decision to provide over $300 million for literacy priorities, including $146 for the Striving Readers program, as well as the decision to provide $50 million for a high school dropout prevention initiative,” Wise said. “This is an important down payment on dealing with the dropout crisis that must be expanded in future legislative action.”

The bill would also provide $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which would go to states and school districts that want to reward effective teachers and schools for boosting student achievement; $868 million for TRIO, and $330 million for GEAR UP, which represents an increase of $20 million and $17 million, respectively.

The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the subcommittee’s bill during the week of July 17, with the bill possibly moving to the House floor before the August recess. More information on the FY 2010 Labor–HHS–Education appropriations bill is available at http://appropriations.house.gov/Subcommittees/sub_lhhse.shtml.

Wise’s complete press statement is available here.

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