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Senate Committee Approves Bill Cutting Ed. Dept. by $1.7 Billion in FY 2016


Amid calls from Democrats to begin negotiating new budget allocations, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2016 spending bill Thursday that would make deep cuts to federal education programs.

"Obviously there are a number of things we don't agree on," said appropriations subcommittee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., referring Republicans and Democrats. "One is whether we should mark up to our allocation or not, and we do mark up to that allocation. Obviously that has consequences."

The proposal, which would provide $65.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, a $1.7 billion cut from fiscal 2015, passed on the party-line vote, 16-14.

"While the allocation is tight, the good thing about a tight allocation is it makes you look carefully at the choices that need to be made," Blunt said, underscoring that the funding bill also provides increases in spending for Title I for low-income children, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and charter schools.

In addition to cutting funding for various education programs, the bill would also eliminate 10 programs entirely, including Investing in Innovation, Striving Readers, and Preschool Development Grants. You can read the details of the appropriations bill here.

Democrats agreed that the GOP spending plan was much less harsh on education than the proposal from House Republicans, which would slash funding for education by $2.8 billion and eliminate 20 programs entirely.

But Democrats on the committee still attempted to restore funding for a host of programs that were either eliminated or gutted in the Senate appropriations bill, which also includes funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., offered an amendment that would significantly increase funding for the Education Department and restore the programs eliminated. Among other things, the amendment would include $425 million for competitive grants, $750 million for Preschool Development Grants, and $300 million for Investing in Innovation.

The amendment failed on a party-line vote, 14-16.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., offered the only other education-related amendment during the markup, one that would strike a policy rider from the spending bill that prohibits the Education Department from implementing any higher education regulations until Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act. The intent was largely pegged to the department's gainful employment regulations, meant to eliminate bad actors in the for-profit college industry.

"Make no mistake, the rider which they inserted in this bill is for their industry almost exclusively," Durbin said.

Durbin's amendment failed on a party-line vote, 14-16.

Like the markup in the House Wednesday, members on the Senate appropriations committee emphasized the need for a budget deal that relinquishes the self-imposed across-the-board spending caps known as the sequester.

"First and foremost, [the Senate appropriations bill] doubles downs on the automatic budget cuts that Democrats and Republicans agree are terrible policy and should have never become law," Murray said. She noted that the budget deal she struck in 2013 with then-House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., expires at the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30, and needs replacing ASAP.

"That deal expires this year, and until we reach another one, each of these bills... has no chance of becoming law," she said, noting that the president has said he plans to veto any spending bill that holds to sequester-level funding. 

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