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House Panel Backs K-12 Spending Bill Targeting Obama Transgender Guidance

The House appropriations committee approved an education spending bill for fiscal 2017 that increases federal spending on special education grants and a new block grant created under the Every Student Succeeds Act, but makes cuts to, or eliminates, several other education programs. The vote on Thursday was 31-19. 

The full appropriations committee didn't alter the bill that was approved last week by a House subcommittee that deals with K-12 spending. As we reported last week, the Education Department's overall budget of $68 billion would be cut by $1.3 billion in the spending bill. 

"This is a tough bill to write. It's a tough bill in tough economic times to write," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. the chairman of the House appropriations committee. 

The spending bill would also prohibit any federal funds from being used to withhold money from schools based on the guidance regarding transgender students issued by the Education Department and U.S. Department of Justice in May. (See Section 313 on page 147 of the spending bill.)

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., tried to strike that and other so-called riders from the spending bill, but her amendment to do so failed. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urged lawmakers to strip out this language targeting the transgender language from the bill in a Tuesday letter. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., also made a push to get rid of the language—noting that he is the grandfather of a transgender individual, Honda said of discrimination against transgender students, "We cannot and must not support that kind of behavior."

But Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. the chairman of the House subcommittee, defended that language in part by stating that the transgender guidance does not have the force of law. "This is a very corrosive use of federal power," he said.

The Senate's spending bill for K-12 approved last month did not include this provision about the transgender guidance.

The $500 million increase in the House bill for special education grants, and the $1 billion authorization for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, that new block grant, were highlighted by Cole. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the ranking member on the House subcommittee, unsuccessfully argued for an amendment to restore funding to a variety of programs, including two dozen education programs. She said she was taken aback by the bill's elimination of (or reductions in) several such programs, such as the elimination of $96 million in support for magnet schools, given that ESSA explicitly authorizes them. "It's really a surprising move," DeLauro said.

Several programs with reduced or eliminated funding were singled out by lawmakers, especially the lack of funding for the Computer Science For All Development Grants, which would get $100 million in President Barack Obama's spending plan but gets nothing in the House spending plan (it was also not supported in the fiscal 2016 enacted budget).

"This bill picks clear winners and it picks clear losers," said Lee, who spoke out in favor of additional funding for computer science education.

But Cole countered that districts, if they chose to, would be able to emphasize computer science education through their use of the block grant, with more funds available to them in the House bill than President Barack Obama's spending plan. 

"We tried to push the money out and down by, again, doubling the money the administration asked for in that area," Cole said.

We reported additional details about the House education spending bill on Tuesday. And kudos to Mikhail Zinshteyn of the Education Writers Association for catching one more feature of the House spending bill that we didn't highlight: changes to funding for the National Assessment of Education Progress and the Institute for Education Sciences. 



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