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SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE APPROVES $10 MILLION INCREASE FOR STRIVING READERS

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"We are constantly battling over which worthwhile projects are going to be underfunded."

The fiscal year 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education spending bill was approved by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on July 14. In it, the Striving Readers program is slated to receive $35 million-an increase of $10.2 million over last year and $5 million over the version already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Overall, the bill would allocate $56.7 billion to programs in the U.S. Department of Education, an increase of $132.2 million over last year and $670 million more than the president requested. While the bill’s total amount is equal to the version passed by the House last month, there are some significant differences in the way some programs would be funded by the two bills.

“We are constantly battling over which worthwhile projects are going to be underfunded,” said Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. “It gets tougher every year, but I think we got the major programs taken care of.”

Alliance for Excellent Education President and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise commended the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for recognizing the importance of improving the reading and writing skills of American secondary school students, but noted that the Senate amount “still fell far short of the $200 million President Bush requested. Six million young people are at risk of not graduating from high school because they read so poorly that they literally cannot comprehend the material in their textbooks,” he said. “Many of these kids face futures of dead-end jobs, long periods of unemployment, and an increased risk of incarceration. The Striving Readers program is an important ingredient in the recipe for improving the literacy skills of these students.”

Like the House, the Senate faced tight budget constraints and was limited in the amount that it could spread among signature programs such as Title I and special education. Under the Senate committee bill, Title I would receive $12.84 billion, a $100 million increase-the same as the House version. Special education grants to states would also receive a $100 million increase, slightly less than the $10.74 billion the program would receive in the House version.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a champion of special education programs, protested that this would decrease the federal government’s contribution to special education for the first time in a decade, from 18.6 percent to 18 percent. “It’s not right to balance our budget on the backs of the people who need it most,” he said.

The Senate bill also eliminates funding for the Smaller Learning Communities program, as had been requested by the president. The House bill allocated $94.5 million for the program. The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program would get a slight boost in the Senate bill, from $34.7 million last year to $36 million in FY 2006. However, according to the No Child Left Behind Act, if the amount appropriated for this program is less than $40 million, the secretary of education “shall award grants to local educational agencies only to establish or expand counseling programs in elementary schools.” In other words, no money can be distributed to secondary schools.

An updated chart of selected federal education programs that can help middle and high school students is available athttps://all4ed.org/files/Fiscal06ProgramChart.pdf.

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