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Budget Bill: Tiny Increase for Title I, Obama Ed. Programs Survive

UPDATED

Key formula programs that school districts depend on—Title I grants for disadvantaged kids and special education—would see a tiny increase under a spending bill for fiscal year 2012 put forth early Thursday. The House voted Friday to approve the bill, 296-121.

And big Obama priorities, including the administration's signature Race to the Top initiative, the Investing in Innovation grant program, and the School Improvement Grants, would continue.

The measure, which would fund a number of government agencies—not just education—until Sept. 30, 2012 is the result of an agreement between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. The Senate is expected to approve the bill.

A Senate bill, approved earlier this year, level-funded nearly all education programs, but only cut a handful. A House measure, which proposed big $1 billion increase for Title I and special education, eliminated 31 other programs, including the administration's favorites.

Under the compromise spending bill, Title I grants for districts would see a tiny boost of $60 million, bringing the total to $14.5 billion. And the $60 million increase will be divided among thousands of school districts, so it's unlikely to make much a difference overall.

Special education would also see a teeny hike, to $11.6 billion, a $100 million increase. Advocates are sure to celebrate that the funding is heading in the right direction, but that tiny boost is unlikely to have a huge impact on the bottom line for many districts.

Race to the Top, which would have been completely eliminated under the House bill, was funded, but the program was cut from nearly $700 million in fiscal year 2011 to $550 million. In fact, the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Republicans, touted the reduction in its press release, saying that the "Obama administration's unpopular Race to the Top" was cut. The grants can be made to either states or districts. That would be a big change for the program.

Other Obama priorities survived the chopping block. The School Improvement Grant program, which covers the cost of turning around the nation's lowest performing schools, got $534.6 million, according to the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. That's the same level as last year, but a little less than the $600 million the Obama administration wanted to see.

The Investing in Innovation grant program, which scales up promising practices at the district level, got nearly $150 million, according to CEF, or the same level as last year.

And the Promise Neighborhoods program, which helps communities pair wraparound services, such as health, with education, was a big winner. It got $60 million, according to CEF. That's up from about $30 million last year.

The bill also includes $160 million in new money for literacy programs, which took a beating in the fiscal year 2011 budget agreement. The measure would create a new, comprehensive literacy program, according to an analysis by Penn Hill Group, a government relations organization in Washington. And the bill includes level funding for English Language Acquisition, at $733 million, Penn Hill Group found.

Head Start, an early childhood program, was a big winner. It got a $424 million boost, to $8 billion. (The program is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Education Department.)

But the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants to districts to create performance pay programs, was a big loser. It was cut 25 percent, from $400 million to $300 millon, according to CEF.

And the $46 million Teaching American History program was eliminated, according to CEF.

Pell Grants, an area that has caused Congress tons of angst this session, will stay at the same maximum level of $5,550. But there were changes in the program's eligibility. For instance, students would have to have a GED or a high school diploma to tap a grant. And the grant would only be eligible for 12 semesters, down from 18 semesters.

Lawmakers are also proposing an across-the-board cut to all education programs of 0.189 percent, according to CEF. That might round down, ever so slightly, some of the estimated totals for individual programs. The Department of Education would be financed at $71.3 billion in the legislation, which is $153 million below last year's level and $9.3 billion below the budget request, according to the House committee.

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