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House Panel OKs Big Increase in TIF Grants

By guest blogger Erik Robelen:

House lawmakers have taken their first stab at President Obama's education spending request for the coming fiscal year. And the verdict? A case of "you win some, you lose some" with two top Obama priorities. A big increase for the Teacher Incentive Fund? Yes, if perhaps grudgingly. A big increase for Title I school improvement grants? Not a chance.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education this morning approved by voice vote a spending plan with $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which seeks to help reward effective teachers and principals. That's pretty darn close to Mr. Obama's request of $487 million. And it may come as a surprise, since the Democratic chairman of the panel, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, expressed skepticism about the program in a recent hearing with Secretary Duncan. Here's Mr. Obey's opening statement, which includes a few details on the budget.

But the subcommittee was not inclined to go along with the president's plans to redirect some $1.5 billion of aid under the flagship Title I grants to school districts program. He wanted to take $1 billion of that to roughly triple the size of the $545 million Title I school improvement program. Also, the president is hoping to create a $500 million Title I early childhood grants program. Instead, the subcommittee approved keeping Title I aid essentially flat at $14.5 billion (not including, of course, the one-time influx of stimulus aid for Title I).

Overall, the subcommittee bill would provide a small increase for the Department of Education's discretionary budget, some $1.2 billion, bringing the total to $64.7 billion. This increase is roughly comparable to what the president proposed, but it does not reflect his call to shift the Pell grants program from the discretionary to the mandatory side of the budget. This comparison also does NOT include any of the federal stimulus dollars for education.

The subcommittee was kind enough to share a few more details about the budget plan, but left a lot out. The detailed package isn't expected out until early next week. Here are a few other tidbits:

--$156 million for charter schools (the president wants $268 million);
--$50 million for a new high school dropout prevention initiative the president has requested;
--$10 million for a new Promise Neighborhoods program the president wants;
--more than $400 milllion for "new approaches to improving reading instruction in our schools."

UPDATE: It appears Chairman Obey's summary of the subcommittee bill included a not-so-small error--to the tune of $100 million for charter schools. Under the bill, $256 million, not $156 million, would be set aside to help launch charter schools. (I saw this on the Charter Blog, published by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which aptly dubbed the error the "$100 million typo.") The figure is still shy of President Obama's request of $268 million, but the revised figure is a lot closer, and $40 million above the current level.

Also, the full House Appropriations Committee is now scheduled to take action on the budget bill this Friday, July 17.

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