Also in Issue 1, Volume 7:
Congress Debates Education Funding
For those interested in what Congress is up to with respect to funding education—there are two major legislative actions worth noting this month.
The first is a major debate in Washington over whether the Federal government should provide additional relief to schools faced with teacher layoffs. Proponents, most notably David Obey (D-WI)— the retiring Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee—argue that without more funds, many of the educators whose jobs were saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will be laid off this coming school year.
In response, the House added $10 billion of education funding to the war supplemental (seen as a must-pass bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) just before Congress took off for the 4th of July recess.
Under the House initiative, the funds would flow through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) which was originally created under ARRA. However, unlike the prior version, states would not be required to sign off on the education reform assurances, nor would funds be directed to higher education—instead, 100% of funds would be used by states to off-set cuts in elementary and secondary education.
The $10 billion is less then half of the $23 billion originally sought by Obey and others. However, they lacked the votes for additional funding due to stiff opposition from Republicans as well as moderate Democrats concerned with the additional spending.
In addition to a smaller pot of funding, Obey also had to find other programs to cut in order to pay for the jobs stimulus. While a vast majority of the funding cuts didn’t receive much attention, an $800 million reduction in several of President Obama’s key education reform initiatives resulted in a significant pushback. Specifically, the cuts included $500 million from the current state competition for Race to the Top; $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund; and $100 million from the Charter Schools program.
Opposition came from all sides including Republicans such as Rep. Kline (R-MN), the Ranking Member of the House Education and Labor Committee. Kline criticized the move in a press release stating, “Democrats have shown their true priorities, jumping at the chance to discard education reform to salvage an unpopular bailout for the education establishment.”
Democrats who otherwise support the additional funds were equally concerned with the proposed cuts, leading 12 Senators to join in a letter opposing any similar efforts in the Senate.
The proposed cuts also faced criticism from the broader education reform community and business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps most notably, the plan led the White House to threaten a veto of the entire supplemental if these cuts were included.
While the outcry provided a strong voice in support of continued reform, the debate may be moot. As of this writing, the House appears poised to accept the Senate’s stripped down version of the supplemental given the lack of votes—although other legislative vehicles for the additional spending are still being discussed. With the upcoming election looming and Members headed back home for a long August recess, it remains to be seen if the threat of “mass” teacher layoffs will trump the growing fear of “runaway” federal spending.
For most observers, Chairman Obey’s cuts in the President’s education proposals were seen as a shot across the bow for the President’s education reform efforts. However, in what was viewed by many as a surprise move, the Chairman included funding for several of the President’s key initiatives as part of the FY2011 Labor, Health, and Education Appropriations proposal which passed out of subcommittee in mid-July (see chart below). Particularly surprising was the inclusion of $800 million for the Race to the Top initiative.
The Senate will begin marking up their version of the education appropriations bill in mid-July. Neither Chamber is expected to vote on the spending bill prior to the August recess, or for that matter, prior to the elections.
FY2011 President’s Request
FY 2011 House Subcommittee
|Title I||$14.4 billion||$14.4 billion||$14.8 billion|
|Race to the Top||$4billion (ARRA)||$1.35 billion||$800 million|
|Investing in Innovation (I3)
||$650 million (ARRA)||$500 million||$400 million|
|Promise Neighborhoods||$10 million (planning grants)||$210 million (implementation grants)||$60 million|
|Special Education||$12.5 billion||$12.8 billion||$12.9 billion|