Senate Education Appropriation Approved

Well it appears we now have a three-month Continuing Resolution that will keep the federal government operating until mid-December. The House is voting on the legislation on Friday and it is expected to pass largely on the strength of Democratic votes. The CR comes as part of the deal the President crafted along with leading Congressional Democrats to extend the debt ceiling debate as well as provide emergency funding for hurricane relief.

Motivations varied a lot here, but clearly President Trump wanted to be able to point to his administration’s speedy response to the hurricane recovery effort. Except for the hurricane relief funds, all this deal really does is push a set of difficult issues off for three months. It won’t be any easier to deal with them in December, though the delay may free up some space for Congress to consider tax reform legislation in the interim. We’ll see.

The appropriations process had been moving along in Congress, though it is well behind schedule. With the September 30 deadline for getting FY 2018 appropriations in place, it seemed likely that a CR would be needed. This one just came in a bit early.

The Senate acted this week on its education appropriation bill. The FY 2018 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill passed out of subcommittee on Wednesday and was approved by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday with bipartisan support. With the new CR there is now some three months to move this bill through the reconciliation process.

The Senate bill is quite a bit like the appropriations bill that passed out of the House Appropriation Committee back in July and not much in line with President Trump’s original budget request. The Senate bill increases total discretionary funding for the United States Department of Education by $29 million over FY 2017, for a total FY2018 budget of $68.3 billion. The House appropriated $66 billion for the Department of Education, a reduction of $2.4 billion from FY 2017. President Trump wanted to cut ED’s budget by $9 billion.

The Senate appropriated $2.05 billion for Title II (which provides money for recruiting and training teachers). The House, looking for places to cut the budget, went along with President Trump’s proposal to eliminate all Title II funding. This could be a real stumbling block as the two chambers try to reconcile their bills. The Senate level funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers at $1.2 billion, while the House proposes cutting the program by $200 million. This was another program that President Trump eliminated in his budget request.

The school choice initiatives that are at the core of the Trump education agenda got no support from either the Senate or the House. Not only did the Senate not fund the choice initiatives, it barred the administration from using federal funding for vouchers or public school choice.

The Senate bill includes very small increases for several programs—$25 million for Title I, $11.5 million for Impact Aid and $25 million for Charter schools—and level funded most of the remaining programs, including CTE and special ed.

Overall, barring the need to make across the board cuts in order to find more money for defense or some other presidential budget priority, it seems that the FY 2018 budget (which for the most part funds the 2019-20 school year) will pretty much let the schools go on with business as usual. We’ll have to wait until December to see the final outlook.

A final budget note. The Senate added $50 million to the Title IV block grant—Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants. The House proposed a $100 million increase to a total of $500 million. Title IV is authorized at $1.6 billion. Even with the modest increases proposed by Congress, the total appropriation remains too small to allow for much innovation or even significant increases for existing initiatives that fall under the block grant. (Title IV can be used for a wide variety of projects, including student safety, mental health, arts education, technology, and college-and-career readiness. Districts can also transfer their funding to other ESSA programs, including Title II.)

Several weeks ago Education Week reported on how the states will distribute the $400 million of Title IV funding available for the 2017-18 school year. Congress made a one-year exception that lets states distribute the 2017-18 funding through a competitive process, which would allow for fewer but larger grants with the potential of greater impact. It appears that most states are going the formula route. As of mid-August, only seven states indicated that they definitely will run a competition. In the remaining states, formula distribution means that many districts will get only the required minimum of $10,000. To my mind that increases the likelihood that many districts will just transfer the money to another program where it will add a little bang to the much bigger budget category it is being added to. This is real opportunity lost, but there simply is not enough money to go around.