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Federal Flash: House and Senate Reach Education Funding Agreement

On Thursday, key members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reached a deal on the fiscal year 2019 funding bill for the U.S. Department of Education and several other agencies. Here’s a look at funding levels for some specific education programs.

Overall, the agreement provides increases in funding for several important programs at the U.S. Department of Education, but it does NOT include language prohibiting the use of federal education funds to purchase firearms – a big sticking point in finalizing the language for this funding bill.

The spending deal provides:

– $15.9 billion for Title I state grants to support students from low-income families, an increase of $100 million from last year;

– $12.4 billion for special education state grants, an increase of $87 million, and

– $1.3 billion for career and technical education state grants, an increase of $70 million

The bill also provides a $175 increase in the maximum Pell grant for fiscal year 2018 and a $100 increase in the maximum Pell grant for fiscal year 2019.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, created under the Every Student Succeeds Act and at the center of the debate regarding whether school districts can use federal funds to purchase guns and train educators in the use of firearms, receives a $70 million increase to $1.17 billion.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program was created to provide districts with flexible funds they can use to meet local needs regarding safe and healthy school environments, a well-rounded education, and increase access to personalized learning supported by technology.

Funding for the program was increased after the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, to help schools keep students safe. Concerns with how funding for the grant program would be used arose after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicated the Department of Education could permit school districts to use funding to buy guns and arm educators.

Congressional Democrats were alarmed. And advocated for including language to bar the use of grant funds for guns. The Alliance for Excellent Education and many other organizations supported this effort. Unfortunately, the final agreement does not include this prohibition on using grant funds to purchase guns.

On the other hand, the funding deal drops language prohibiting the use of federal funds for transportation costs for school desegregation. The language has been part of the education appropriations bill since the 1970s and emerged after backlash to a Supreme Court ruling that deemed busing an appropriate means to aid in school desegregation. The prohibition was included to appease white constituents who opposed busing their children into African-American neighborhoods.

Civil rights groups and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, have advocated for removing the language.

So, what’s next? In addition to funding for the Department of Education for fiscal year 2019, this appropriations bill also includes funding language for the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

Moreover, it includes a short-term extension of current funding through December 7 for all government agencies that will not have funding in place by September 30 when existing funding will expire.

In other words, it will keep the federal government open during the midterm election. The bill must pass both chambers before it can be sent to the president to be signed into law. We’ll keep you posted as things progress.

One last item for today. The U.S. Department of Education is announcing another competition for states to participate in a pilot program for innovative assessments, formally called the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority. Up to seven states may participate. In 2018, only two states applied – one state was approved, the other state is still pending. Applications will be due by the end of the year.

See details here.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the September 17 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at