In separate appearances before the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings faced pointed criticism from members of Congress for what they perceived was an insufficient budget for the U.S. Department of Education.
During the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on March 12, Chairman David Obey (D-WI), who also serves as chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee, did not pull punches in articulating his displeasure with President Bush’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 education budget. “I want to make it clear,” he said. “This budget for education is going to be increased significantly.”
Chairman Obey was not the only member of the subcommittee to voice displeasure with President Bush’s FY 2008 education budget, which would fund discretionary education programs about $1.5 billion below the current level of $57.5 billion. Specifically, subcommittee members from both parties questioned Secretary Spellings about the budget’s proposed cuts to, or same-level funding for, a variety of education programs, including GEAR UP, TRIO, 21st Century Learning Centers, and Dropout Prevention.
In response to these questions, Spellings typically provided one of two explanations. She either said that small programs were cut in order to fund larger programs, such as Title I, that give states greater flexibility in deciding how to spend the money, or that the administration was trying to reduce the federal budget deficit and was forced to make difficult choices. During one of these exchanges, Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) expressed frustration with the Secretary’s federal budget deficit argument and pointed out that there was an upcoming vote on hundreds of millions of more dollars to be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senate Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Funding for NCLB
While the hearing before the House subcommittee was about the president’s overall education budget for FY 2008, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education’s hearing on March 14 examined proposed funding for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Once again, Secretary Spellings faced tough questions about what the senators described as inadequate funding for NCLB programs.
“Year after year, the President sends us a budget that comes nowhere close to funding No Child Left Behind at an adequate level,” saidSenate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). “The numbers have gotten almost laughable. The president’s FY08 budget underfunds NCLB by $14.8 billion, for a cumulative shortfall of $70.9 billion since enactment of the law. Funding for Title I alone—the cornerstone of the law—would be shortchanged by $11.1 billion, for a cumulative shortfall of $54.7 billion.”
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the subcommittee’s ranking member, shared Harkin’s sentiments, calling the president’s education budget “very problemsome (sic)” and “unrealistic.” He told Secretary Spellings that she was in a special position to be an advocate for these programs because she has worked with the president for such a long time. He added, “The next time you see President Bush, give him a piece of my mind.”
Echoing her responses in the House subcommittee hearing, Spellings pointed to the tough budget environment and said that the president’s budget made some tough choices and favored funding “what works” and “higher-priority programs” over programs that have achieved their original purpose or were duplicative. “This combination of terminations and reductions would make available approximately $3.3 billion for the administration’s priorities,” she said.
For instance, Secretary Spellings said that reauthorizing NCLB was the “top priority” for 2008. She also talked about the consensus that was emerging over the need to address high school reform. “There is a broad consensus on the importance of education for America’s future in our increasingly competitive global economy . . . and a strong commitment to ensuring that all students not only graduate from high school, but graduate with real skills that they can put to use either at college or in the workforce,” she said. “I have been pleased to see a lot of common ground in the early discussions, reports, and recommendations on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, including the need to focus more attention on the high school level. . . .”
Senator Harkin did give the president credit for his $500 million proposal to turn around schools in need of improvement and for the $1.1 billion increase for Title I. However, he noted that the money for both of those increases would come from eliminating other education programs that are “of high priority to Congress.” Harkin also gave warning that overall funding for NCLB would have to be on the table when discussions begin on reauthorization for the law.
“Accountability is important; I’m all for accountability. But raising student achievement takes more than testing. It also takes money. It takes money to hire good teachers, update the curricula, develop high-quality assessments, and make all the other improvements that schools need to leave no child behind. And I assure you: Before I vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, I will insist that it’s adequately funded.”
A webcast of the House subcommittee hearing is available at
Secretary Spellings’s testimony is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/latest/index.html?src=ln.
|Senate Begins Consideration of Education Budget
The U.S. Department of Education would receive an increase of $6 billion over the president’s request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 under the congressional budget resolution that was reported out of the Senate Budget Committee on March 15. In total, the budget resolution, which was developed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), would provide a $16 billion–$18 billion increase in domestic appropriations over President Bush’s allocation for FY 2008. In addition to the increase for education, the budget resolution includes substantial additional funding for veterans, children’s health insurance, and community policing programs.
“This plan would not increase taxes,” said Conrad. “It provides resources for our priorities—children’s health, schools, and our veterans—that otherwise would have been cut under the administration’s plan.” Conrad added that his plan would balance the budget by 2012.
Republicans disagreed with Conrad’s assessment and noted that the Democratic budget proposal assumes a $400 billion revenue jump over five years without really saying from where the money would materialize. “It’s almost like Wizard of Oz tax policy here,” said Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the committee’s ranking member. “There’s somebody behind the curtain, and we can’t see who it is, but he’s going to come up with the money to pay for this.”
Although it is a nonbinding spending blueprint that is not signed by the president, the congressional budget resolution sets limits on the spending and tax legislation that Congress will consider for the rest of the year. Only the total amount of discretionary spending in the final budget resolution is binding on the appropriations committees, but last week’s efforts are a good sign that education programs could see significant increases this year.
The full Senate is expected to take up the budget resolution during the week of March 19. The House Budget Committee is also expected to begin debate on its version of the congressional budget resolution this week.