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HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES EDUCATION FUNDING BILL: Striving Readers Program Would Receive $5 Million Increase

"We've done the best we could with the money we have," said House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH)

On June 16, the House Appropriations Committee approved $56.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, an increase of $117 million over last year, in its FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education spending bill. The education spending bill is expected to go to the House floor during the week of June 20, with the Senate Appropriations Committee marking up its version sometime in July. The final numbers will not be known until the president signs the bill, which is not likely before fall.

“We’ve done the best we could with the money we have,” said House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH), who expressed particular concern over education programs. “That’s the future of our nation, to have well-educated people. That’s how we will be able to compete.”

Representative David Obey (D-WI) accused Republicans of running up big budget deficits to “provide super-sized, six-digit tax cuts to the most fortunate people in our society,” while forcing Congress to “produce the kind of cuts we see in this bill.”

Title I and special education, which saw jumps in funding of up to $1 billion each in past years, would receive much smaller increases under the House bill. Title I, funded at $12.74 billion last year, would receive only $100 million more in FY 2006-far less than the $500 million increase proposed by President Bush. Special education would receive a $150 million boost in the House bill, compared to the $358 million increase that Bush sought in his budget request.

Rather than provide large increases for these kinds of big-ticket items, Regula chose to fund smaller programs that had been slated for elimination in the president’s budget request. For example, Even Start ($200 million), Comprehensive School Reform ($10 million), the National Writing Project ($20 million), Elementary and Secondary School Counseling ($34.7 million), and Smaller Learning Communities ($94.5 million) were all funded in the appropriations committee bill despite being “zeroed out” in the president’s proposed budget. Both TRIO, which was cut by $467 million in the president’s budget, and GEAR UP, which was zeroed out, were restored to last year’s funding levels in the House bill. Vocational Education State Grants (Perkins) was another program that was pegged for elimination by the president in order to provide funding for a new high school initiative. Under the committee-passed bill, funding for Perkins was restored to $1.19 billion, the same amount the program received last year. The high school initiative-which had been considered by many as “dead on arrival” when it was proposed back in February-now appears to be officially ready for burial.

The Striving Readers program, which will enter its second year of existence in FY 2006, was funded at $30 million in the House bill. In a statement, Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, commended the appropriations committee for “recognizing the importance of improving the reading and writing skills of American secondary school students,” but noted that the appropriation fell far short of the $200 million President Bush requested in his budget. “If the ongoing investment of $1 billion a year in No Child Left Behind’s Reading First program, which focuses on students in grades K-3, is to have a lasting effect, literacy skills must be reinforced and expanded throughout a student’s academic life,” Wise said.

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