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Don't Mourn or Applaud the End of $2 Billion in Teacher-Training Money Just Yet

What's the most eye-catching provision in the House education funding bill? That's easy: It's the elimination of $2 billion for educator training and class-size reduction. How anxious or pleased should you be about it? Here's the answer: Slow your roll. 

Why? Part of the answer is obvious. The $66 billion spending bill, which would be a $2.4 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Education, hasn't been approved by the full House yet. It has only gone through committee. But moreover, the odds that the bill will come to the full House floor are actually very long—in fact based on recent history, it would be unusual if it did make it to a final House vote.

The education funding bill is one of the "problem children" as far as spending legislation, said Erik Fatemi, a senior vice president at the Cornerstone Government Affairs lobbying firm and former Senate staffer.

"It's very controversial. It's very hard even for Republicans alone to get a consensus on that bill," Fatemi said.

Some time this week, the full House will consider a set of spending bills, but those pieces of legislation are focused on national security issues. 

Now let's talk about the Senate. We don't yet have a proposed education spending bill from senators yet. But on Thursday, the upper chamber did announce that for fiscal 2018 (the upcoming year), the amount of money set aside for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments is $164 billion. That's $8 billion more than the House bill, and it's $3 billion above what's been allocated for those three agencies in fiscal 2017. 

Again, how much of that $8 billion in "extra" cash (compared to the House bill) will flow to the Education Department in the Senate funding bill is uncertain. But for school funding fans, it's at least not a bad sign. And with respect to TitIe II, Fatemi told us, "Senate Democrats have tended to fight hard for that program."

So what comes next? The short answer is that we may not know until December how the budget shakes out and changes spending on things like Title II. 

Fatemi said that before the fiscal 2018 year starts on Oct. 1, Congress will probably pass a continuing resolution to work out budget details over the last few months of the year. Because of spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, and since Republicans want to increase defense spending significantly above what those caps allow, the GOP is likely going to have to work out a deal with Democrats to change spending on both defense and non-defense spending (the latter, naturally, covers things like education). 

Last week, NDD United, a group that is opposing cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending, urged lawmakers to start over on the budget, raise the spending caps on programs covering health care and job training as well as education, and end sequestration.

"There's a deal to be had," Fatemi said. "It's just going to take some time to get there."

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