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How Democrats and the GOP in Congress Compare on Education Funding

This Congress is the first in four years to feature divided control between the two political parties. Now that both House and Senate education appropriations bills are public, we can compare how they've approached key funding questions and policy priorities. And the gaps might not yawn quite as wide as some think. 

First, some background: Democrats in control of the House have what would be a record-high budget of $75.9 billion for the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year, featuring a $4.4 billion increase—including $3.4 billion more specifically for K-12. Meanwhile, the Republican bill from Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri released Wednesday would maintain department spending at roughly $71.5 billion, with some slight increases for things such as charter schools and safety measures. 

Neither of these bills will become law as written in their entirety. There's a lot of negotiating ahead, and it could be weeks if not months before we know how much money the Education Department will get next year. Maybe Democrats will score a win and boost Title I funding over the GOP's wishes, but perhaps Republicans will win out and get a bit more money for charters even though Democrats want a cut.

With all that said, let's look at how some prominent programs are treated under current law and in Democratic and Republican bills. (As a bonus, we're including in one prominent program not run by the Education Department.)

Despite sometimes dramatic, if not apocalyptic, rhetoric about federal education spending and how far apart the parties are, both avoid taking big-ticket programs to the scrapyard—or offering an all-you-can-eat buffet. To put it another way: Democrats are not proposing to double or triple their favored marquee programs, and Republicans (President Donald Trump aside) don't want to totally torch a host of line items, even ones they're likely skeptical of. 

One possible result is that, like the two previous spending bills passed by Congress during the Trump era, lawmakers will end up providing a modest increase to the Education Department. 

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