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Congress Approves Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

Congress has now given final approval to the long-delayed education spending bill for fiscal year 2010. If you leave out the stimulus, there was basically flat funding for most education programs, plus a huge boost for some Obama administration priorities. (School districts that want to try out merit pay will be especially psyched about a huge increase for the Teacher Incentive Fund, bringing the program to $400 million, up from just under $100 million last year).

But most of the major work, including huge increases for Title I and students in special education, was taken care of in the stimulus. That took some pressure off lawmakers and the administration to provide the big boosts for those programs in the fiscal 2010 bill that many advocates expected to see, given that Democrats control both Congress and the White House for the first time in over a decade.

So the budget that will really matter is the next one, which President Barack Obama will release sometime this winter, likely right after the State of the Union. The stimulus funding only covered fiscal 2009 and 2010, so the next budget will give school districts a sense of whether the appropriations for Title I and special education are likely to remain as high as they were in the stimulus. (Title I got $10 billion in the stimulus, an increase of about $5 billion per year on top of a budget of $14.5 billion. And special education state grants got $11.3 billion in the stimulus over two years, on top of a budget of $11.5 billion).

So will those huge increases stick? Tough to say. The economy is still in terrible shape. And the Department made it pretty clear in its initial guidance on the use of Title I and spec ed funds that districts should be careful to use the money in ways that minimize the "funding cliff"&#mdashor the big drop-off when the stimulus funds go away.

But I'm guessing if at least part of the increase isn't maintained, education groups will hammer the administration for cutting Title I and special education. Whether they'll have an accurate point will be a matter of debate, but their criticisms may not be what the administration and Congress want voters to hear during an election year.

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