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Bill With More Than $2 Billion in Teacher-Training Cuts Advances in House

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Lawmakers in charge of the U.S. Department of Education's budget voted Wednesday to advance a funding bill that cuts $2.4 billion from the agency's budget, with most of that reduction coming through the elimination of a major program focused on teachers. 

The GOP-backed bill approved by the House appropriations committee on Wednesday by a 28-22 vote cuts the department's budget to $66 billion. That's a less-severe cut than the spending blueprint floated by President Donald Trump in May that includes a $9.2 billion reduction. House Republicans followed the Trump budget's lead and cut the $2 billion Title II program that covers teacher training, as well as class-size reductions.

"We invest in programs that ensure that all students have access to a quality education," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the House appropriations committee. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.

But Republicans in charge of the bill declined to include two big budget initiatives from Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: a $1 billion public school choice program under Title I, and a $250 million private school choice program. 

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the Education Department, said the legislation focuses on key priorities. Among other provisions of the budget, Cole highlighted:

  • A $200 million increase in special education spending, increasing it to $12.2 billion
  • Level funding for career and technical education grants and early-childhood programs;
  • A $100 million increase for the Title IV block grant, which would get $500 million in the House bill and is designed to support district programs in a variety of areas like education technology and student well-being. 

But Democrats had a host of complaints and unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to restore funding for various programs.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the House subcommittee, excoriated the bill for the elimination $2 billion in Title II aid, as well as the elimination of literacy and other programs. And she said she was "deeply disappointed" that the legislation does not include a funding increase for Title I, which would get $15.9 billion for serving disadvantaged students. In addition, DeLauro said that despite the bill's $200 million increase for special education, Congress continues to fall short of its full legal obligation for supporting students with special needs. 

"If we do not invest in our children, we deny them the chance for success," DeLauro said, adding that the bill is "anti-educator."

In discussing his amendment  to restore the Title II funding, Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., said that 98 percent of districts rely on the program's funding. His amendment would also have restored funding to other teacher- and principal-focused programs, including the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program. (Price's amendment was voted down by the committee 29-23.)

"None of the education reforms that we talk about and want to implement will be worth a thing without a first-rate teaching force," Price said. He added that with respect to the Every Student Succeeds Act, "If we want fulfill the potential of that act, we've got to provide adequate resources for school leaders."

However, in speaking against Price's amendment, Cole said the committee had to make "difficult choices." While Cole said he was open to dialogue down the road about funding levels to various programs, he took a shot at the Obama administration, saying the past president wasn't a particularly strong advocate on things like special education spending.

So what's the impact of a Title II cut at the local level? We reached out to Deborah Akers, the superintendent of the 9,400-student Mercer County district in West Virginia, to see how she would react to the elimination of Title II. 

Much of her district's Title II money goes to professional development programs that focus on using education technology in the classroom, Akers said. But the loss of Title II money would also exacerbate the district's woes when it comes to which classrooms teachers are placed in. 

"We have more folks who are having to teach out of field ... or even more so, we're now finding sometimes we're having to use substitutes where we can't find certified teachers," Akers told us. 

Title II isn't a huge part of Akers' funding: It accounts for $600,000 of the district's $100 million budget. However, her district can use that $600,000 with a lot more flexibility than much of the rest of her budget. Asked where an increase in federal aid would be the most helpful, Akers said she would welcome a boost in IDEA special education money: "If we had additional funding in that area, that we free up some dollars for us to do some other things."

Click here to read more educator perspectives on what a Title II cut would mean.

Photo: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., center, accompanied by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., left, holds her daughter, Abigail, during a session of the House appropriations committee on July 19 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)


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