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Obama Signs Short-Term Budget Bill That Slashes Education

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill

President Barack Obama this afternoon signed a bill approved by the U.S. Senate just a few hours earlier to keep the government running until March 18, while slashing about $4 billion in spending, including eliminating a number of education programs.

The bill effectively scraps all funding for the rest of the year for the $250 million Striving Readers program, the $66 million Even Start program, and other literacy programs.

The administration had wanted to see those programs consolidated into a new, broader, $383 million funding stream aimed at improving literacy. Now it appears there may be a lot less available money for that effort.

The measure also effectively gets rid of all funding for the rest of the year for the $88 million Smaller Learning Communities program, which was slated to be funneled into a broader program aimed at improving educational options.

And it scraps the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, or LEAP, program, financed at $64 million.

The bill also defunds a lot of programs that are right now classified as "earmarks," meaning money directed at one particular program or project. That includes a number of national education programs, such as Teach for America, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental, and the Close Up fellowship.

Yesterday, a group of 11 senators, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, sent a letter to the top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee saying that these programs shouldn't be lumped in with traditional earmarks, which are usually special pet projects lawmakers request just for their districts.

That's not the case with the education programs, the senators wrote. "These programs are nationally structured, with many years of bipartisan support," they said. "They benefit millions of individuals and families in a majority of states, districts, and regions throughout the country."

But the letter may have arrived too late to make much of a difference, at least on this short-term bill. The Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition in Washington, has done some of its own analysis on the impact of the cuts, which were the same in the House and Senate. Check out a letter they sent to lawmakers yesterday.

The really tough part is just beginning. As you probably remember, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill recently that would finance the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. That measure included some major education cuts, $5 billion in all.

Now the House and Senate will have to somehow reach agreement on a longer-term spending bill—or there really maybe a government shutdown.

Photo: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a March 2 news conference on the budget bill. (Alex Brandon/AP)

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