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Senate Appropriators Propose Cutting Education Department by $1.7 Billion

Washington

Senate appropriators unveiled their fiscal 2016 education spending plan Tuesday afternoon, proposing to fund the U.S. Department of Education and its federal education programs to the tune of $65.5 billion, a $1.7 billion cut from fiscal 2015.

Unlike the House appropriations subcommittee, which proposed cutting $2.8 billion and eliminating 20 programs in its education spending bill, the Senate subcommittee's strategy was not as severe.

Still, the proposal would slash funding for a slew of education programs and eliminate 10 others, including Investing in Innovation, Preschool Development Grants, and Striving Readers.

"The allocation itself requires significant cuts throughout the bill," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the appropriations subcommittee. "Therefore we focused on preserving core programs."

Among other funding decreases, School Improvement Grants would be cut by $56 million, Promise Neighborhoods would be cut by $20 million, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by $117 million. Here's a list of some additional cuts:

  • Migrant Education would be cut by $9.8 million
  • Teacher Quality State Grants would be cut by $103 million
  • State Assessments would be cut by $28 million
  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools would be cut by $10 million
  • Elementary and Secondary School Counseling would be cut by $26.6 million
  • Teacher Incentive Fund would be cut by $5 million
  • Magnet Schools Assistance would be cut by $6.6 million
  • Advanced Placement would be cut by $5.6 million
  • English Language Acquisition would be cut by $25.3 million

The spending proposal does, however, provide some limited increases to core federal education programs, including Title I for low-income students, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and charter schools. Among its highlights, the bill would provide:

  • $14.6 billion for Title I, a $150 million increase above fiscal 2015;
  • $12.4 billion for IDEA, a $125 million increase above fiscal 2015;
  • $273 million for charter schools, a $20 million increase above fiscal 2015;
  • $8.7 billion for Head Start, a $100 million increase above fiscal 2015;
  • An increase in the SEED set-aside¬†within the Teacher Quality State Grants (to recruit and train teachers and leaders in high-need schools), bringing it to 5 percent, up from 2.3 percent. (However, funding for the teacher quality grants overall would be cut.)

The proposal would also level-fund Impact Aid at $1.3 billion. (Impact Aid funds schools that miss out on local tax revenue from the federal government, either because they are located on federal land, such as Army bases and Native American reservations, or have a lot of federally connected students.)

In addition, the spending plan includes two education-related policy riders. One would prohibit the federal government from mandating or incentivizing the adoption of any specific set of standards or assessments, including the Common Core State Standards. Another would prevent the U.S. Department of Education from moving forward with a slate of new higher education regulations until Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, including the forthcoming college rating system.

The subcommittee cleared the bill by voice vote, and the full committee is scheduled to take it up on Thursday.

Across the Capitol, the House appropriators unveiled their education spending bill last week and cleared that bill for full committee markup, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

Similarly, the House bill proposes to slash funding for the Education Department and its programs by $2.8 billion, the bulk of which would come from eliminating a slate of 20 programs. Those would include many high-profile Obama administration priorities like the School Improvement Grants, Preschool Development Grants, Investing in Innovation, and the Teacher Incentive Fund.

As a reminder, these spending plans are a building up of a larger battle over whether and how to avoid across-the-board federal spending cuts known as "sequestration." Congress struck a temporary deal to alleviate the cuts for both military programs and domestic ones, like education. But that deal expires this fall, and then the across-the-board 8 percent cuts return in full force.

The president has vowed to veto any spending bill that locks in sequester-level funding, but so far, both House and Senate education funding bills adhere to those cuts (and then some).

That sets up a likely showdown between congressional Republicans and the White House ahead of the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30.

"I know Chairman Blunt and his staff faced a very daunting task that doubles down on the automatic spending cuts," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee. "This bill will never become law until there is a bipartisan budget deal. I'm hopeful we can reach another one this time around and do it very soon."

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