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HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE PASSES EDUCATION FUNDING BILL: Appropriations Bill Would Provide Large Increases for Title I and Pell Grants, but No Increase for Striving Readers

The U.S. Department of Education would receive $61.7 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2008 under the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill approved by a House Appropriations subcommittee on June 7. This represents an increase of $4.2 billion (7.4 percent) over the FY 2007 level and $5.5 billion over the amount requested by President Bush in his FY 2008 budget.

In recent weeks, President Bush has threatened to veto spending bills that have a price tag above the amount in his budget request, and that certainly is a possibility for the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. However, Representative David Obey (D-WI)the chairman of both the House Appropriations Committee and the House Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, received significant praise from Republicans on the subcommittee for his handling of the bill. For instance, Representative James T. Walsh (R-NY), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said that he would have allocated the funds in a similar fashion.

Specifically, the bill would provide a $1.9 billion increase for Title I (8.4 percent over FY 2007). Of that total, $500 million would go to fund the president’s request for School Improvement Grants for schools that have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for at least two consecutive years. However, the subcommittee did not adopt the president’s proposal to designate $1.2 billion of Title I money for high schools in an effort to increase the high school share of Title I allocations and expand the impact and rigor of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) standards into high school.

The subcommittee also chose not to provide the $68.8 million increase for the Striving Readers program that the president requested, instead choosing to fund the program at the same $31.2 million amount it received in FY 2007. Currently, only eight programs nationwide receive funding under the Striving Readers program—even though the U.S. Department of Education received close to 150 applications in the initial competition and nine hundred intentions to apply for a grant. Without an increase in funding, no new grants are expected; the Department announced in March that it will use FY 2007 funds to continue to support the eight Striving Readers projects that were first funded in March 2006.

The Reading First program, for which the president requested $1 billion, received a lot less. In fact, the subcommittee cut the program by $629 million, or 61.1 percent, as a sign of disapproval over the way the program was implemented. Over the past few months, investigations focused on the program’s implementation have revealed cases of mismanagement and have raised ethical questions. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general has found that federal officials appeared to prefer the use of certain commercial programs and discouraged others during the implementation of Reading First. “This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Obey.

The largest single increase in the bill is for Pell grants, which were allocated an additional $2 billion, a 14.6 percent increase over FY 2007 and $2.2 billion more than the president’s request. This increase would raise the maximum Pell grant award by $390, to $4,700.

Also slated for an increase is the Elementary and Secondary Schools Counseling Program, which would receive $61.5 million, an increase of $26.9 million. If the school counseling program were to receive more than $40 million, grants could be awarded to both elementary and secondary schools. Previously, per NCLB requirements, grants could only be distributed to elementary schools if the amount appropriated for the school counseling program was less than $40 million.

The bill also includes increases for teacher quality ($300 million), afterschool centers ($125 million), and English language learners ($106 million).

The next step for the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill is to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee, probably on June 14. It is expected to be approved by the full committee and to go to the House floor for a vote during the week of June 18.

A chart containing funding levels for selected education programs is available at https://all4ed.org/federal_policy/budget_FY2008.

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