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SENATE COMMITTEE REPORTS EDUCATION SPENDING BILL: Senate Appropriations Bill Continues Cuts to Education Funding; Striving Readers Program One of Few to See Increase

The U.S. Department of Education would receive $55.8 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal year (FY) 2007 under the bill reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 20. Similar to the bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee in June and the president’s budget request from February, the Senate bill would cut overall education spending compared to last year. In this case, the Senate bill represents a cut of $150 million from last year and a cut of $780 million from FY 2005—the highwatermark for education funding.

Fiscal Year U.S. Department of Education Discretionary Spending Total Difference from Fiscal Year 2005
2005

$56.58 billion

N/A

2006

$55.95 billion1

($683 million)

2007 House Committee

$56.15 billion

($430 million)

2007 Senate Committee

$55.80 billion

($780 million)

2007 President’s Budget

$54.41 billion

($2.17 billion)

 

During the markup, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education, criticized the lack of funds for domestic priorities. He said that the bill “[constitutes] what I view as really the disintegration of the appropriate federal role in health, education, and worker protections.”

Statewide Data Systems, which would receive a $13.5 million increase, and the Striving Readers program, which would receive a $5.3 million increase, were two of the few education programs to receive an increase. The Title I program would receive $12.71 billion, the same amount as last year, but $12.29 billion less than the amount authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act. During the markup, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, proposed an amendment that would have added $6.1 billion to the Title I program; it was defeated. The bill would provide an additional $100 million for a new School Improvement program under Title I that would help schools that have been unsuccessful in raising the academic performance of disadvantaged children. The House version includes $200 million for the program. 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.

The Senate bill would also restore funding to several programs that were targeted for elimination in the president’s budget, including the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Program ($1.3 billion), the TRIO program ($828 million), and the GEARUP program ($303 million). The Senate chose not to restore funding for the Smaller Learning Communities program. (A chart of proposed funding levels for other education programs is included in this issue.)

Floor Action on Education Spending Bill Unlikely Until After Election Day

According to most observers, final passage of the Labor, HHS, and Education bill is unlikely to occur until after Election Day for several reasons. First, because few, if any, Democrats will support the House or Senate bill without increases in spending, both bills would have to pass largely on Republican support. However, with an election looming, the Republican leadership is unlikely to put vulnerable members of Congress in the position of having to cast difficult votes on cuts to domestic spending—especially when such a vote could be used against an incumbent during the campaign.

In the House, other factors are weighing against the bill’s consideration. For one, the House bill contains a provision that would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 by January 2009. Although the Republican leadership has said that it will allow a vote on a minimum wage increase this year, it does not want the provision attached to a spending bill. Until that provision is removed, it is unlikely that the bill will come to the floor.

In addition, House moderates received a pledge from the Republican leadership in May for an additional $7 billion for the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education in exchange for their support on the congressional budget resolution. Currently, the bill remains approximately $3 billion short of meeting the pledge. If the additional funding does not materialize, Representative Michael Castle (R-DE) and other moderates could join forces with Democrats to defeat the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill on the House floor—a prospect the Republican leadership will do their best to avoid. Therefore, it is unlikely that the House Republican leadership will bring the bill to the floor until after the dust settles post-Election Day.

1) Excludes $1.6 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief

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