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OBAMA SIGNS OMNIBUS SPENDING BILL: Bill Provides Big Funding Boost to Early Childhood Programs, Restores Much of Education Funding Cuts Imposed by the Sequester

“Both of these investments improve access to high-quality early learning experiences for children from birth to kindergarten,” said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.

The U.S. Department of Education will receive approximately $67.3 billion in discretionary funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 under the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill President Obama signed into law on January 17. The bill, which is composed of all twelve regular appropriations bills, restores much of the education funding cuts imposed by the sequester, but falls $800 million short of the pre-sequestration amount of $68.1 billion from FY 2012. The measure received rare bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, which passed it by a vote of 72 to 26, and the U.S. House of Representatives, where it passed by a vote of 359 to 67.

The bill includes an increase of more than $1 billion for Head Start—an increase of approximately $600 million compared to the pre-sequestration level—and includes $250 million for a Race to the Top competition for grants to states to help them develop, enhance, or expand high-quality preschool programs for children ages four and over and from low- and moderate-income families.

“Both of these investments improve access to high-quality early learning experiences for children from birth to kindergarten,” said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, in a speech on the Senate floor. “I truly believe that these investments lay the foundation for future prosperity by better preparing America’s next generation.”

Another big change in the bill was for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which targets the nation’s lowest-performing schools and is slated to receive $505 million, slightly less than the $534 million the program received in FY 2012. Policy language in the omnibus bill added two turnaround models to the original list of four. The new models reflect language included in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The first new model, referred to as “whole school reform,” is a strategy which must be based on a “moderate level of evidence that the program will have a statistically significant effect on student outcomes.” The second model is one that has been designed by a state and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Previously, schools receiving SIG money were restricted to four turnaround models that required (1) replacing the principal; (2) replacing the principal and replacing 50 percent of the school staff; (3) becoming a charter or privately managed school; or (4) closing the school. Language in the bill also allows the three-year grant period to be extended to five years, which would allow SIG grantees additional planning time.

Although education programs received a significant boost, many fell short of the funding levels from FY 2012, the year before the sequester imposed a 5 percent across-the-board cut to all federal programs. Title I will receive $14.4 billion, slightly less than the $14.5 billion the program received in FY 2012. The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program will receive $158 million, slightly less than in FY 2012. Special education grants will receive $11.47 billion, less than the $11.58 billion received in FY 2012. Career and technical education grants to states will receive $1.1 billion, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (afterschool) will receive $1.14 billion, federal TRIO programs will receive $838 million, and GEAR UP will receive $302 million—all of those totals are slightly less than in FY 2012.

President Obama’s High School Redesign program, for which he requested $300 million in his FY 2014 budget, was not funded. The program would have redesigned high schools to better prepare students with the real-world skills necessary to find a job right after high school graduation or go to college.

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