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HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE PASSES EDUCATION SPENDING BILL: Overall Education Spending Essentially Flat, Striving Readers Slated to Receive a $5 Million Increase

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“The bill falls three billion dollars short of the amount promised to House Republican moderates by the Republican leadership during budget negotiations earlier this year.”

Funding for the U.S. Department of Education would remain essentially flat under a spending bill that was passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education by a party line vote of 9-7 on June 7. The action by the subcommittee marks the first in a series of steps that will determine how much federal money will be available for education programs in fiscal year (FY) 2007. Next, the full House Appropriations Committee will consider the bill on June 13, but observers do not expect many changes to be made.

Under the version passed by the House subcommittee, the U.S. Department of Education would receive $56.15 billion in discretionary funding in FY07, an increase of $200 million (less than one-half of 1%) compared to FY2006, but $1.74 billion higher than the amount that President Bush requested in his FY07 budget earlier this year.1

In crafting the spending bill, Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) chose to reinstate funding for several programs that President Bush sought to have eliminated. Among the programs that were slated for elimination in the president’s budget, vocational education, GEAR UP, and TRIO were some that would have their funding restored to FY06 levels. Other programs such as the Smaller Learning Communities program and the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program received funding, but at lower amounts than in FY06. (A chart of funding levels for selected education programs designed to help middle and high school students is included with this issue of Straight A’s).

To restore funding for vocational education, Regula choose not to fund the plan to extend No Child Left Behind accountability into high schools that the president proposed to pay for by eliminating funding for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, among other programs. The decision was not a surprise, considering that Congress rejected a similar proposal last year and Chairman Regula was on record opposing the use of vocational education grants to fund the proposal. “I don’t think it’s a good tradeoff. And I’m not going to do it this year either,” Regula said earlier this year after a subcommittee hearing on the president’s education budget.

The Striving Readers program is one of a handful of programs that would, under the subcommittee’s bill, receive an increase in FY06—$35 million which is an increase of $5.3 million over FY06. However, that would still be $65 million below the $100 million that the president requested in his budget. While the small increase for Striving Readers is a positive step—especially considering the very tight budget—it will do little more than allow the Department to meet the obligations already committed to the eight existing grants. The bill would also provide $35 million—an increase of $10.4 million over FY06, but $19.6 million less than the president’s budget request—for statewide data systems which, among other things, would help enhance state capacity to accurately report high school graduation rates.

The Math and Science Partnerships program would receive $225 million, an increase of $42.8 million over FY06, and the Advanced Placement program would receive $80 million, an increase of $47.8 million, but less than the president’s request of $122 million. Increases to these latter two programs were a key component of the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). (More information on the ACI is available at https://all4ed.org/publication_material/straight_as/straight_public_education_policy_and_progress_6_3).

Title I would receive $12.71 billion, an amount equal to FY06, which means that the percentage of Title I money that goes to high schools is unlikely to increase. (Currently about 5% of Title I funding goes to high schools.) The spending bill did include an additional $200 million for a new School Improvement program that the president requested to helps schools that have not been successful in raising the academic performance of disadvantaged children. While this program recognizes the need for targeting to specific schools, it is unclear how much—if any—of the money will go to high schools.

Overall, the bill would fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education at approximately $142 billion, which is $4.1 billion more than President Bush requested and $842 million more than FY06. However, Democrats were quick to note that the bill did not include extra funding that the House Republican leadership promised moderates in exchange for their support of the congressional budget resolution.

“The bill falls three billion dollars short of the amount promised to House Republican moderates by the Republican leadership during budget negotiations earlier this year,” read a statement from Representative David Obey (D-WI), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. “As a result, many important programs will be shortchanged.”

If the full House Appropriations Committee passes the bill as expected on June 13, it will likely move to the House floor for consideration during the week of June 19. Afterward, the debate will move to the Senate, which will likely be the best opportunity to increase funding levels for education programs. Without additional funding for education, health, and other important domestic programs, the final vote on the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, which would come after a House-Senate compromise, is likely to garner little, if any, Democratic support. As a result, Republican leadership is likely to delay the final vote until after the congressional elections in November, to avoid putting Republican members from in the position of casting a politically damaging vote very close to an election.

1) In FY06, Congress included $1.6 billion in funding for Hurricane Katrina and Rita. Excluding that amount, Congress appropriated $55.95 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education. President Bush’s FY07 budget requested $54.41 billion for the U.S. Department of Education.

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