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Congress Approves Bill Flat Funding K-12 Until March 4

Funding for K-12 programs will remain frozen at last year's levels for more than two months, thanks to a measure passed by both houses of Congress today. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill extends funding for almost all federal programs at fiscal year 2010 levels until March 4. That means a new, more-conservative Congress will get to set 2011 spending levels for K-12 programs.

Education advocates are worried about what that could mean, given that House Republicans, who will soon hold a majority in the chamber, have said they want to roll back spending to fiscal year 2008 levels.

But the bill approved today does include money to help shore up the Pell Grant program to help low-income students pay for college, which was facing a major shortfall, due to high demand. And it contains language on highly qualified teachers aimed at helping those who go through alternative certification programs, such as Teach for America. (Check out this explanation by Steve Sawchuk of our Teacher Beat blog.)

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, cheered the teacher-quality provision in a statement released right after passage of the bill. And he made it clear that this is just the first step in revising the No Child Left Behind Act's "highly qualified teacher" provision, of which Miller was a key supporter at the time the law was crafted.

The language is "only the beginning of the conversation about the shift we need to make in our schools in regards to teachers and the measures of teacher quality. I look forward to continuing our efforts to rewrite ESEA in the next Congress," said Miller, who will be the top Democrat on the House education committee in the new Congress.

As you'll probably remember, the Senate rejected a giant spending bill that would have included modest increases for grants to districts to help educate disadvantaged students, and a small boost in federal spending on special education.

That bill also included $550 million to extend Race to the Top for another year, $240 million for another year of the Investing in Innovation grant program, and $300 million in new money for early learning.

It's tough to say just what will become of those programs when the new Congress finishes the spending bill for fiscal year 2011, which actually began on Oct. 1. Congress has funded the government through a series of extensions since then.

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