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Transparency Watch: What the Heck Is in the House Education Spending Bill?

Want to know whether the House Appropriations subcommittee that deals with K-12 spending decided to zero-out funding for your education program?

Or whether it wants to extend Race to the Top to school districts, not just states? Or whether there are changes to the Teacher Incentive Fund program? Or just how much money the School Improvement Grants are slated to get under a fiscal year 2011 spending bill that was approved by the subcommittee more than seven weeks ago?

Well, don't expect to get an answer any time soon.

Back on July 15, when the subcommittee approved the bill, its staff released a summary table and gave reporters highlights of the bill. But the subcommittee didn't supply spending information on all programs (or even most of them). And it largely refused to answer reporters' (or advocates') questions about key details of the measure.

That's in sharp contrast to the Senate Appropriations Committee. After a subcommittee markup, aides made themselves available, with tables and charts, and took questions about the spending measure (but didn't actually release summaries, which I wish they would). Still, just two days later, after the full committee passed the legislation, all the information was distributed to the public.

And now that measure is online for anyone with access to the Internet to pore over and scrutinize.

So why can't the House do the same? I asked the committee, but couldn't get an on-the-record response.

Some esoteric inside baseball: The transparent, available Senate bill has been through both a full committee and subcommittee markup, while the top-secret-for-no-clear-reason House bill has only been through the subcommittee step. So that may be the thinking. But the full House committee won't consider the bill until mid-September at the earliest, and possibly not even until December.

Also, do educators trying to plan their program budgets for next year really care about what step in the process a bill is in? If it's been voted on, it should be public, they say.

As one advocate put it to me:

"I think it's a complete slight to Democracy that members voted on a piece of legislation and it's not public weeks after the markup. I don't understand what's to be gained politically, especially since the Senate moved on theirs. It's puzzling and disturbing."

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