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U.S. House Votes to Roll Back Sequestration

School districts and early-childhood education programs are one step closer to getting some relief from across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which trimmed about 5 percent of federal K-12 spending this school year.

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday approved 332-94 a plan that would roll back the majority of the cuts slated to hit most school districts during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. The agreement, which was written by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will now proceed to the U.S. Senate.

The proposal, which has the backing of the Obama administration, would restore 87 percent of total spending on domestic discretionary programs—the big category that includes K-12 education—according to an analysis by the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition in Washington. Overall, spending would be capped at roughly $1.021 trillion this year. Much more background on the proposal here.

It's still unclear, however, how the deal would impact individual programs. The House and Senate appropriations committees will get to work on figuring that out if and when the budget agreement becomes law. The panels will have until Jan. 15, when the current stop-gap spending measure expires, to fill in the programmatic details.

When it comes to the U.S. Department of Education, it's likely that big formula-grant programs that go out to nearly every district will fare better than the Obama administration's favorite competitive-grant programs, such as Race to the Top.

The plan would keep spending levels relatively flat overall for the next two years, making it less likely that Congress will find funding for new initiatives, including the administration's big push to expand preschool to more 4-year-olds. The bill includes language that would open the door for financing early-childhood education, but it doesn't provide any actual new resources.

Another thing to note: The plan doesn't completely get rid of sequestration, which is slated to be in place for a decade. The deal would just roll back most of the cuts for two years, giving lawmakers space to come up with a broader agreement down the road.

So are education advocates happy with this agreement? Most are—in fact they're calling on Congress to finish it up, already.

Sample endorsement: NDD United, which stands for nondefense discretionary united, a coalition of more than 3,200 education, public safety, environmental, health, labor, state, local, and other organizations, sent a letter to members of Congress yesterday urging them to pass the deal.

The sequestration cuts are "dragging down our economic recovery, denying children educational opportunities, leaving low-income seniors without food, hindering scientific discovery, delaying justice, compromising public safety and public health, eroding our infrastructure, and threatening our ability to address emergencies around the world," the organizations wrote.

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