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Federal Literacy Aid Slashed as Part of Budget Deal


Federal support for literacy was dealt a heavy blow today.

This afternoon, President Barack Obama signed into law a stopgap spending bill that ends federal funding for several literacy programs at the U.S. Department of Education, part of a planned government-wide reduction of $4 billion. The measure also eliminated or trimmed spending for a variety of other education programs.

The plan originated in the House, where Republican leaders insisted that cuts be part of the deal to keep the government running for two more weeks. Passage of the legislation buys lawmakers and the White House more time to negotiate on a longer-term budget plan for fiscal 2011. It passed the House yesterday by a vote of 335-91 and the Senate this morning by a vote of 91-9.

The cuts include all funding for the $250 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, the $67 million Even Start family-literacy program, the $25 million Reading Is Fundamental program, and the $26 million National Writing Project.

To be clear, the cuts will affect funding for the current fiscal year, which began last October. (Yes, it's fair to say Congress is a little behind schedule.)

For the big picture, check out my colleague Alyson Klein's post over at Politics K-12.

President Obama himself has repeatedly proposed essentially eliminating discrete funding for these individual programs, but with an important caveat: He wants to replace them with a broader, more flexible pot of competitive dollars for what he's called the Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy Fund. (He also has proposed to consolidate other programs into two related funds for Effective Teaching and Learning in STEM education and a "Well-Rounded Education.") Of course, the bill approved yesterday in the House, which was supported by nearly all Republicans and more than half of the chamber's Democrats, includes no such larger literacy program.

The legislation President Obama signed today also eliminates federal aid for a number of other Education Department offerings, including the $40 million Arts in Education program, the $88 million Smaller Learning Communities program, and the $64 million Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, or LEAP, program.

One literacy program at the Education Department that was spared from any cuts was the $19 million Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program.

Speaking of literacy and the federal government, my co-blogger here, Catherine, wrote earlier this week about a new guide to federal aid for grade-level reading proficiency. (Something tells me the guide may need a few tweaks after this week is over.) Catherine also wrote about remarks Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made this week about early reading.

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