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Senate Education Aid Bill Inches Forward; House Budget Panel Issues Ed. Report

The Senate Appropriations Committee released its fiscal year 2015 federal spending bill for education programs Thursday morning, though it's still unclear whether the funding measure will get a full committee markup.

The bill retains nearly all of the spending approved in June by the education appropriations subcommitte. Here's a recap of proposed funding for some of the key federal education programs:

  • Early education is the biggest winner┬áin the spending bill, which includes $8.7 billion for Head Start, an increase of $145 million over the current year. In total, the bill would provide a combined increase of $348 million for key early-childhood care and education programs. Those increases include a $65 million increase for Early Head Start and a $100 million increase for both the Child Care and Development Block Grant and preschool development grant programs.
  • The funding bill would provide slight increases for key formula-aid programs. The $14.5 billion Title I program, which offers grants to help districts educate disadvantaged children, would get a $50 million increase. And state grants for special education, currently financed at nearly $11.6 billion, would get a $40 million increase.
  • The spending measure also includes $1.9 billion to address the increasing number of unaccompanied child immigrants streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border from South American countries, an increase of $1 billion. House and Senate appropriators are in the midst of considering emergency supplemental aid to bolster the situation as well.
  • The biggest loser in the spending bill is the Obama administration's newest K-12 initiative—an iteration of the Race to the Top program aimed at bolstering educational equity, which was rejected by appropriators entirely.

Despite appropriators in both chambers having been adamant that they would pass a funding bill through regular order for the next fiscal year, it seems unlikely at this point. Indeed, the subcommittee in the House responsible for education funding hasn't even released its spending proposal.

New House Budget Report: "Expanding Opportunity in America"

Also on Thursday morning, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled a series of policy proposals in a new report that highlights the economic and social achievement gaps between low-income children and families and their wealthier peers.

Many of the proposals mirror provisions included in Ryan's 2015 budget resolution, a conservative blueprint to balancing the budget.

Ryan's proposals for early-childhood education include converting Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund into a two separate block grants, and testing competing models of early education to pinpoint those most effective.

In the elementary and secondary education space, the budget chairman proposed making federal Title I dollars portable, an idea that Sen. Lamar Alexander, top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are fond of pushing. He also called for collapsing several fragmented K-12 programs into a block grant and giving states more flexibility to determine their neediest schools are how to fix them.

Ryan focused most of his education policy proposals in the higher education space, pulling on several ideas he's pushed in previous budget resolutions. Some of those include capping federal loans to graduate students and parents, overhauling the Pell grant program to make it more flexible for non-traditional students, reforming the college accreditation process, and simplifying the form for federal student aid. He also floated the idea of collapsing TRIO, a slate of services aimed at increasing college access for low-income students, into a single grant program and expanding federal work study programs.

The report also underscored that because education is a shared responsibility between federal and state governments, the federal government alone cannot solve all the problems.

"Whenever the federal government grows too large—too cumbersome and too obtrusive—it becomes less of a conduit and more of an obstacle," Ryan wrote. "States, local governments, and other community groups must take the lead in reforming elementary and secondary education. And, of course, the greatest responsibility for a child's education lies with the family. That's why public policies that encourage work and a stable home life are key."

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