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What to Watch for When Congress Writes Edu-Spending Bills

Think education advocates work is all done now that Congress is all done with the big budget deal? Think again. Now that lawmakers have decided to largely roll back sequestration (those automatic across-board cuts to education spending) for two years, advocates are rolling up their sleeves, making their case to lawmakers to pretty please shift as much of the freed-up money as possible to education.

After all, schools have been squeezed by the federal government since last March. And even before that, appropriations for K-12 were on a downswing, argued the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition, in a letter sent Monday to top lawmakers on the Appropriations Committees, which oversee spending.

"These three years of budget cuts have moved our nation backward on efforts to improve overall student achievement, close achievement gaps, and increase high school graduation and college access and completion rates," the organization wrote. "These waves of cuts have come at a time when enrollments have increased at both the K-12 and higher education levels."

CEF specifically cited three programs—teacher quality, career and technical education, mathematics and science partnerships—that have been squeezed particularly hard.

And they made a chart that showed a dip in total discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education (minus Pell Grants, which help low-income students attend college). Eagle-eyed chart readers: Do you think the way that this was done [starting at a number other than zero] exaggerates the scope of the cuts just a bit? Or do the increments and starting point on this chart give a good perspective on the funding changes? Comments section is open.

CEF graphic.PNGAnother key thing to watch in budget negotiations, besides how much money goes to the Department overall is which K-12 programs actually get the funds. When sequestration happened, the Obama administration made a big deal about potential layoffs and programmatic cuts from big formula programs (Title I grants to district and special education), but it has pushed competitive grants (like Race to the Top) in its budget blueprints.

So where do advocacy groups stand on this? Many of the big name associations—the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, the AASA ¬†(the School Superintendents Association), and the National Association of School Boards are firmly on Team Formula Grants, and sent a letter to Congress saying so. You can read it here.

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