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STRIKING A BALANCE: House Appropriations Subcommittee Falls Short of President Obama’s Education Funding Goal

“At some point we need to get this spending under control, set priorities, and fund the ‘need to do’—not the ‘nice to do’—programs.”

On July 15, a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee fell short of meeting President Obama’s funding goal for the competitive Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3) programs as it began its work on the bill that will fund the U.S. Department of Education in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, which begins on October 1, 2010.

The bill, officially called the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, would provide an overall total of $71.9 billion for the Education Department in FY 2011. That amount represents an increase over last year’s $64.3 billion, but is $1.5 billion less than President Obama requested in his FY 2011 budget.

In a statement, House Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) lamented that the bill contained less funding than President Obama’s budget request. “Given the needs of so many Americans living on the edge, I wish it were not so,” Obey said. “But, the resources available to this subcommittee are limited. We can’t do everything that might be useful, or everything the president or members of this subcommittee propose. But we should try to do what’s most important.”

Obey noted that the subcommittee tried to “strike a balance between maintaining broad-based federal assistance to schools and schoolchildren and advancing efforts to reform public education.” For example, the bill provides a 3 percent increase in Title I grants and a 4 percent increase for special education. For the president’s reform initiatives, it includes $400 million for I3 grants, which is $100 million less than the president’s request. For RTT grants, the bill includes $800 million, or $550 million less than requested in the budget.

The bill appears to shift some of the money that could have gone for education reform to help address the effects of the recession that have been especially hard on young workers—Obey noted that more than 25 percent of older teenagers are unemployed. To that end, the bill includes an additional $250 million to support summer employment opportunities for about 100,000 young adults.

Republicans on the subcommittee offered several amendments that would have enacted across-the-board spending cuts. Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA), ranking Republican on the full committee, offered an amendment that would have set appropriations at FY08 levels while Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT) proposed an amendment that would have set funding for the bill at last year’s levels.

“At some point we need to get this spending under control, set priorities, and fund the ‘need to do’—not the ‘nice to do’—programs,” saidRepresentative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), top Republican on the subcommittee.

The bill will now go to the full House Appropriations Committee for review on a date that has yet to be announced. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to begin its work on the bill on Tuesday, July 27.

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