On November 20, as part of a $388 billion omnibus bill that includes almost the entire domestic budget for fiscal year 2005, Congress approved $56.58 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Education. The total for education programs is $920 million more than that allocated last year. However, it is $760 million less than the amount requested by President Bush earlier this year, and $2.27 billion less than the total approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee just two months ago. The final bill, which includes funding for thirteen government departments and dozens of domestic agencies, passed the House of Representatives by a 344 to 51 margin and a 65 to 30 vote in the Senate. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.
In total, funding for domestic programs grew only 1 percent over last year, giving a victory both to fiscal conservatives, who sought to control domestic spending in order to reduce the deficit, and to the president, who had threatened to veto the bill if spending grew by more than that percentage. But while a number of programs were cut or eliminated, the omnibus bill included significant funding for the pet projects of individual members. For example, the bill provided up to $2 million to buy a former presidential yacht for a navy museum, according to the Washington Post.
Few Education Programs Receive Increases-New Initiative for Striving Readers Cut Below President’s Request
Advocates for domestic programs were not the only individuals disappointed by the reductions in funding for the programs they support. Even President Bush did not receive the funding he sought for several of his initiatives. For example, the Striving Readers program, designed to increase adolescent literacy levels, received only $25 million in funding, as opposed to the $100 million proposed by the president in his FY 2005 budget request.
In a slight deviation from the pattern that has developed over the last few years, signature education programs such as Title I and special education still received increases-although much smaller than the $1 billion increases in previous years-while most other education programs were either frozen or cut. For FY 2005, Title I will receive $12.74 billion, an increase of $400 million over last year but still $7.8 billion less than the amount authorized in the No Child Left Behind Act. Other programs receiving increases include GEAR UP and TRIO. The Smaller Learning Communities program received nearly a 50 percent cut from last year’s level; it will be funded at close to $95 million in FY 2005, down from $174 million in FY 2004.
Funding levels for specific programs are not yet final. In another measure to rein in total domestic discretionary spending, all programs included in the omnibus bill are subject to an across-the-board cut of approximately 0.8 percent. (As a result, several programs that were frozen at last year’s funding levels in the omnibus bill will effectively be cut.) Additionally, because of furor over a provision inserted in the omnibus bill that would have allowed congressional appropriations committees to view the tax returns of individual Americans, the president will not receive the bill for signature until after the week of December 6, after the House acts to remove the controversial language. Final totals for selected federal education programs will be available as an insert to the December 13 issue of Straight A’s, after the cuts are official and President Bush has signed the bill.
As the last issue of Straight A’s reported, many observers were watching the lame-duck session as an early indicator of how the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, with its increased majorities, intend to govern in the 109th Congress, especially with respect to domestic discretionary spending. If the omnibus bill is any indication, those individuals who had hoped for additional federal funding for domestic priorities could be in for a long 2006.