Last week, the U.S. Congress passed a spending package that sets funding levels for federal education programs and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which ends September 30, 2015. Under the agreement, which President Obama is expected to sign this week, funding for most education programs remains the same. Obama’s preschool development grants will receive $250 million for a second year, but funding for his signature Race to the Top program was eliminated.
“Within a very difficult budget environment, this bill protects key investments in America and allows us to respond to several new challenges facing our nation,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “I am particularly encouraged that the bill invests in high-quality early childhood care and education, provides programs that support working families, allows for an increase in the maximum Pell Grant award and number of recipients, and expands investments that allow for a continued response to the Ebola outbreak, both in the United States and overseas.”
The legislation failed to fund the president’s $150 million High School Redesign initiative—a competitive grant program that would provide students with challenging and relevant academic and career-related learning experiences that prepare them for college and a career. Nor did it fund Obama’s $200 million ConnectEDucators initiative, which would have ensured that teachers and leaders with access to high-speed internet and technology devices for students are well prepared to use these resources to personalize student learning and better align classroom instruction with college and career readiness. The bill also eliminates funding for the $46 million High School Graduation Initiative.
All was not lost for high school reform advocates, however. School Improvement Grants, which target the nation’s lowest-performing schools, will receive $506 million—the same as last year—while the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, which helps states advance students’ literacy skills from birth through grade twelve, will receive $160 million, an increase of $2 million.
Additionally, the Investing in Innovation (i3) program will receive $120 million. Although that amount represents a cut of $21.6 million and is less than the $165 million that Obama requested in his budget for the competitive program, the bill directs ED to prioritize comprehensive high school reform strategies that will increase the number and percentage of students who graduate from high school and enroll in postsecondary education without the need for remediation and with the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate arguments on the basis of evidence, and communicate effectively. The bill also contains language prioritizing schools where not less than 40 percent of the students served are from low-income families.
Overall, the bill will provide approximately $44.66 billion to ED, which is roughly $140 million more than the previous year but $1.1 billion less than the amount requested by Obama in his FY15 budget. As shown in the chart to the right, discretionary funding for ED is still below FY12—before sequestration imposed significant across-the-board cuts in all federal programs, including education.
The bill provides $14.41 billion for Title I grants to school districts, an increase of $25 million but less than the $14.52 billion the program received in FY12. Special education state grants will receive $11.50 billion, which is also an increase of $25 million but less than the $11.58 billion the program received in FY12.
Cromnibus, Not Krampus
The overall spending package includes eleven of the twelve annual appropriations bills and, as a response from Republicans to Obama’s executive action on immigration, contains a continuing resolution (CR) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that provides funding for that department only through February 27, 2015.
“With a bipartisan vote, the House has passed a responsible bill to keep the government running and address the American people’s priorities,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “This measure puts us on track to save taxpayers more than $2.1 trillion while protecting jobs and supporting our national defense. In addition, by the House’s action, we are setting up a direct challenge to the president’s unilateral actions on immigration next month, when there will be new Republican majorities in both chambers.”
The unique combination of a CR paired with an omnibus bill led congressional staff to dub the agreement the “Cromnibus”—not to be confused with Krampus, the beast from Germanic folklore created as a terrifying counterpart to Saint Nicholas. Instead of giving children candy and toys for being good, Krampus punished misbehaving children during the Christmas season.
Whether you believe St. Nick or Krampus should be the one visiting members of Congress this holiday season, you have the Cromnibus to thank for allowing Congress to finally put a bow on the FY15 appropriations process—except for Homeland Security. However, whether educators are happy with what is inside the spending package is a decision best left to them.
For funding levels for every program within ED’s jurisdiction, consult the FY15 Congressional Action Table at http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget15/15action.pdf.
 Excludes Pell grants and other mandatory spending programs.