Senate Democrats countered the House Republicans' budget cutting on Friday with a proposal that would increase funding for Title I, restore money for the Striving Readers program, and extend Race to the Top.
The measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, would fund the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Education, through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Overall, it would cut about $51 billion below what President Obama wanted for fiscal year 2011.
In a press release, the Democrats take pains to point out that their proposal doesn't include education cuts of the same magnitude as the U.S. House of Representatives' version of the measure.
At least one program that was cut under the two-week stopgap spending plan that Obama signed into law on Wednesday—Striving Readers—would be restored under the Senate Democratic proposal, at $200 million. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who oversees the committee on education spending, had pledged to look for money to continue the program's funding.
The House's longer-term spending bill for funding government through the end of the current fiscal year would slash more than $5 billion from the U.S. Department of Education's budget, and cut $1 billion out of Head Start, which is run out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Senate Democrats' longer-term spending plan:
• Head Start would see a slight increase, going from $7.2 billion in fiscal year 2010 to about $7.4 billion.
• Title I grants to districts would see a modest, $100 million hike, to $14.6 billion. In contrast, the program would be cut by almost $700 million under the House measure.
• Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income college students would be protected. The maximum grant would remain at $5,550. Under the House measure, the maximum grant would be cut by about $845.
The Senate bill would also:
• Boost special education state grants by $200 million, to $11.7 billion
• Include new money for the administration's signature education redesign program, the Race to the Top competition, funding it at $450 million. Plus, it would fund the Investing in Innovation Grant program, or i3, which is meant to scale up promising practices at the district level, at $300 million.
• Increase funding for the Promise Neighborhood program, which is meant to help communities create comprehensive support services to boost academic achievement. The program would get $20 million, up from $10 million last year.
• Cut funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which allocates grants to districts to create pay-for-performance programs, from $400 million in fiscal year 2010 to $250 million. The House bill, which cuts pretty much everything else, leaves this program unscathed.
• Cut all funding, $100 million, for the Educational Technology state grants.
• Slightly cut Improving Teacher Quality State grants, which would be financed at $2.9 million, a roughly $50 million cut from fiscal year 2010.
Other programs including the $546 million School Improvement Grants for turning around low-performing schools would be funded, and the $853 million TRIO program would be funded at last year's levels.
And other programs that were cut under the two-week measure would be restored, including Arts in Education, funded at $40 million. There would also be $35 million designated for Civic Education (the program that funded We the People and Close Up) and $10.8 million for advanced credentialing (the program that funded the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. But the bill doesn't specify where the money would go, so, it wouldn't be considered an earmark.
The National Writing Project remains on the elimination list.
The legislation sets up a collision course with the House, which wants much deeper cuts overall. House Republicans worry that the federal government can't afford current spending levels and say that more money for education hasn't equaled better student outcomes. But, of course, education will just be a little piece of the debate over this broader spending bill that touches nearly every federal program.
At least on the surface it seems as though the restoration of Striving Readers and other programs faces long odds, since President Barack Obama already signed a bill effectively killing the programs, at least for the next two weeks.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, have two weeks to sort out their differences on a longer-term budget or pass yet another short-term, stopgap measure, or the federal government will shut down.