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House Appropriations Committee OKs Fiscal 2016 Education Spending Plan

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee were unsuccessful in several attempts to restore funding for federal education programs during Wednesday's markup of a fiscal 2016 spending plan that would slash the current funding level for the U.S. Department of Education by $2.8 billion.

The committee cleared the measure, which funds the department and federal education programs to the tune of $64.4  billion, on party-line vote of 30-21. You can read more about how education programs would be funded here.

Democrats tried to increase funding for several programs, as well as restore funding for some 20 education programs that would be eliminated under the GOP appropriations bill, which also funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor.

Here's a quick recap of the education-related amendments:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., offered an amendment that would have funded a number of programs in the bill, including preschool development grants, at the level of President Barack Obama's fiscal 2016 budget request. In total, the amendment would have restored $11.7 billion. FAILED 21-30
  • Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., offered an amendment that would have required for-profit colleges to count tuition assistance from veterans' benefits as federal tuition assistance. FAILED 18-33. (Quick explanation: For-profit colleges cannot reap more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal tuition assistance. But since veterans' benefits are provided by the U.S. Department of Defense and not the Education Department, they are technically not counted toward that 90 percent. As a result, some lawmakers argue, many bad actors in the for-profit industry prey on veterans for access to their federal dollars.)
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., offered an amendment that would fund Title I, Teacher Quality Grants, and English Language Acquisition at the level of the president's fiscal 2016 budget request. FAILED via voice vote
  • Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., offered an amendment that would task the National Academy of Sciences with studying child poverty. PASSED via voice vote
  • DeLauro offered an amendment that would increase funding for Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants, and Preschool Development Block Grants. FAILED 21-30
  • Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., offered an amendment that would task the Education Department with providing districts that receive Impact Aid better guidance as to how to interpret tax rates when applying for funding. PASSED via voice vote
  • Roybal-Allard offered an amendment that would increase funding for a slate of federal community service programs, including AmeriCorp. FAILED 20-30
  • Rep. David Price, D-N.C., offered an amendment that would restore funding for several federal grants for teacher and principal preparation, including the teacher Quality State Grants, the Teacher Incentive Fund, the Transition to Teacher and School Leadership programs, and the Math and Science Partnership Programs. FAILED via voice vote
  • Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., offered an amendment that would increase or restore funding for school counseling and physical education programs. FAILED via voice vote
  • Rep. Steve Isreal, D-N.Y., offered an amendment that would require the Education Department to report on STEM programs that are preparing students for the cyber workforce. WITHDRAWN
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, offered an amendment that would restore funding for the Investing in Innovation program and fund it at president's fiscal 2016 budget request ($300 million). WITHDRAWN
  • DeLauro offered an amendment that would strike language from the bill that blocks the Education Department from implementing its gainful employment regulations that are slated to go into effect July 1. FAILED 21-30
  • Rep. Honda offered an amendment that would restore funding for the Institute of Education Sciences to the fiscal 2015 level. WITHDRAWN
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Fla., offered an amendment that would fund the office of civil rights at the president's fiscal 2016 budget request ($130.7 million). FAILED 21-30

Though the Democrats' pitches to increase or restore funding were outright rejected, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the appropriations subcommittee chairman, said he was interested in working with Democrats to find some way to increase funding for early-childhood education.

"If we had a larger allocation this is probably the number one place I would turn to put additional dollars," Cole said referring to DeLauro's amendment that would restore funding for early childhood programs. "I will continue to work with her to see what we can do in this area. I do think this is money well spent, and it's money that saves money down the line."

The larger (and more important) debate that took place during the markup, however, focused on when/how/if members of Congress will strike a new budget deal to avert the across-the-board funding cuts known as sequestration.

The appropriations bill as written adheres to the spending caps (and in many places actually makes steeper cuts).

"These caps were tight," conceded Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., during opening remarks. "I point out that that was required by the law, the Budget Control Act, and until we change that act, we have to live with what the law is."

But the president has vowed to veto any spending bill that locks in sequester-level funding, meaning that the current appropriations bills moving through the House and Senate likely won't see the light of day.

Wasserman Schultz even went so far as to call the bill and markup a "colossal waste of time."

While there is a recognition on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers that the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, is just a few short months away, lawmakers have yet to come up with a Plan B.

"We could make the choice today to work together on a deal to remove the sequester and fund the government," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the committee. "That is a choice we could make. But this bill and these funding levels are a consequence of the Congress's choice of inaction. I do hope we can come together soon to find a solution to mindless austerity caps."

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