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Budget Deal Offers Funding for Disaster-Ravaged Schools, Child Care, But No DACA Fix

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UPDATED

Congress and the White House came together Friday on a two-year budget deal to boost domestic spending, help schools ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires, and invest in child care and children's health. 

But K-12 advocates aren't popping the champagne just yet. For one thing, it's unclear just how much—or if—K-12 schools will benefit from the spending increase. And Congress still hasn't come to an accord on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, leaving the fate of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrations brought to the country as children in doubt, including teachers and students. 

The deal, which President Donald Trump signed Friday, calls for $300 billion in new military and non-defense spending, which includes funding for the U.S. Department of Education. The agreement will be in effect until the fall of next year. It puts a temporary kibosh on across-the-board cuts known as "sequestration" which had tightened spending at the education department for years.  

Under the deal, domestic spending—the category that includes education—would rise by $138 billion over the next two years, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Congress though, will still need to fill in the blanks when it comes to funding for individual programs, such as Title I and special education spending. 

And it's unclear how much of the new money will go to K-12. Trump has proposed slashing the education department's nearly $70 billion budget by more than $9 billion, a 13 percent cut. Congress isn't poised to go along with that proposal, but it is still a signal that hiking K-12 spending isn't a priority for the administration.

"We are pleased that Congress was able to raise the budget caps in a way that acknowledged the importance of investing in not only defense spending but also non-defense funding, which could include education," said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

But she added,"I'm not 100 percent assured that there will be significant investment in education—and where there will be investment in education that it will be focused on public education," given the Trump administration's interest in private school vouchers.  

The measure also includes some $2.7 billion in relief money for schools and colleges impacted by recent hurricanes, including Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year.

The island's schools are so financially strapped and in such rough shape that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has proposed closing more than a quarter of them, in part to save money desperately needed for rebuilding and repair. The disaster aid will also benefit schools and colleges in Texas, Florida, and other hurricane-damaged regions, as well as those damaged by wildfires on the West Coast.

And the legislation includes $650 million to help Head Start centers hit by those natural disasters, according to an analysis by the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. 

School districts that welcome students displaced by the natural disasters can tap federal funding to help offset the cost of educating them. They can receive up to $8,500 for each general education student they take in, up to $10,000 for students in special education, and $9,000 for English-language learners.

Both public and private schools are eligible for this aid. That was also the case for schools that took in students whose families fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.   

The budget deal also calls for $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which helps states expand childcare for low-income families. That's double the amount of money the program received previously, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy organization in Washington.

And the legislation would extend the Children's Health Insurance Program through 2028. The program recently got a six-year extension in the most recent budget agreement, but this gives states even more certainty that CHIP will stick around. The agreement also includes resources for abstinence education. 

In addition, the deal would raise the debt ceiling until March of next year, averting the need for another fiscal showdown anytime soon. And it would extend government funding until March 23, giving Congress time to finalize the budget for fiscal year 2018, which started way back on Oct. 1.

But crucially, the agreement doesn't include a resolution for students affected by DACA, a program that Trump terminated last year. If Congress doesn't act by early next month the program will end, throwing into question the status of 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain who have benefitted from the program in question.

Nine thousand DACA recipients are teachers, according to the Migration Policy Institute, an advocacy organization. And another 250,000 K-12 students have become eligible for DACA since President Barack Obama started the program in 2012. 

Meanwhile, Trump is expected to release a program-by-program spending proposal for fiscal year 2019, which starts Oct. 1, on Monday. 

Dawn breaks over the U.S. Capitol Building on Feb. 9 in Washington.
--Andrew Harnik/AP

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