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U.S. House Votes to Slash Current-Year Education Funding

The U.S. Department of Education's current-year budget would be slashed by more than $5 billion under a bill approved early this morning by the U.S. House of Representatives on an almost strictly party line vote of 235-189.

That sets up a showdown as the legislation heads to the Democratically controlled Senate, where lawmakers are expected to reject the cuts. President Barack Obama has also threatened to veto the bill should it reach his desk with such deep cuts. The Education Department and other agencies are operating under a temporary funding resolution that expires March 4, and advocates already are bracing for the prospect of a government shutdown.

The House approved an amendment that would restore a cut to special education funding of $557.7 million, while instead slashing School Improvement Grants by $336.6 million and Teacher Quality State Grants by $500 million.

The lawmakers also approved language prohibiting the Education Department from enforcing new regulations that would affect for-profit colleges, a controversial issue in the higher education world. And they passed an amendment that would bar the department from enforcing special restrictions on how Texas can use funds under the education-jobs bill passed last year.

"We held no program harmless from our spending cuts, and virtually no area of government escaped this process unscathed, " said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. "While these choices were difficult to make, we strived to spread the sacrifice fairly, weeding out waste and excess, with a razor-sharp focus on making the most out of every tax dollar."

But Democrats have blasted the bill.

"From crib to college, students will be at a disadvantage if the House proposal is enacted," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who oversee the Senate panel responsible for education funding, said earlier this week as the House debated the bill. "There is no question that the time has come for tough budget decisions, but the smart way to bring down the deficit is for Congress to pursue a balanced approach of major spending cuts and necessary revenue increases, while continuing to make investments in education."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, also criticized the bill, saying today that, "with cuts to Head Start, our most vulnerable students and to job training, the Republicans are showing their true colors."

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