Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to include $58.85 billion (a $3.2 billion-5.7 percent-increase over fiscal year 2004) for the U.S. Department of Education in the FY 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill. The amount is $1.2 billion higher than the bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier in September, and $1.5 billion more than President Bush requested when he submitted his budget in February.
However, with only two weeks remaining until lawmakers plan to leave town for the campaign trail, most observers do not expect further appropriations action until an anticipated lame duck session in November. Such inaction has led congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute to call this session of Congress “one of the least productive” in history. “Pretty pathetic,” he told USA Today. In addition to annual appropriations, the 108th Congress has left the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the Higher Education Act on the table.
The additional funds included in the Senate Committee’s bill are largely slated to restore programs that were recommended for elimination by the president. For example, the Smaller Learning Communities program, which the president’s budget did not fund, and which only received $102 million in the House version of the bill, was increased to $174 million in the Senate-its full allocation for FY 2004.
Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding levels were also higher in the Senate’s bill. Each was slated to receive a $1 billion increase in the president’s budget and in the House version of the Appropriations bill; in the Senate version, Title I would receive a $1.1 billion increase, and funding for IDEA programs would grow by $1.2 billion over last year.
Striving Readers, a program the president proposed in his budget to help improve the skills of teenage students who read below grade level, fared less well. While both President Bush’s budget and the House of Representatives’ authorization provide $100 million for the program, the Senate version only provides $25 million. The Alliance for Excellent Education, as well as several other national educational organizations, are advocating for the full $100 million requested by the president.
To come up with the additional money necessary to support the proposed higher funding levels, Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) used a budget scoring technique that temporarily transferred $3.2 billion from mandatory Supplemental Security Income payments. According to CQ Weekly, the “funding shifts should be enough to smooth the bill’s passage when the legislation goes to the Senate floor in the next month.” Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the leading Democrat on the subcommittee, called the spending measure a “really excellent bill.”
In spite of the apparent bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, the funding shifts are not likely to remain when conference negotiations with the House of Representatives and the White House have concluded, due to anticipated objections from fiscal conservatives. CQ Weekly expects that appropriators will “probably agree to funding targets established in the House bill and mirrored for the most part in Bush’s budget request.” In all likelihood, the Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education bill will be included in an omnibus bill that will not see action until after the election.