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What to Watch for When House Democrats Unveil an Education Spending Bill

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The uproar over the Trump administration's (since-rescinded) proposal to cut Special Olympics aid has faded away—but Congress still needs to pass legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Education for fiscal 2020. So what can we expect?

The House panel in charge of Education Department spending will have a first crack at the answer. An appropriations subcommittee led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., will meet Tuesday afternoon to consider a spending bill that covers Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, as well as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' agency. For the first time since 2010, DeLauro and her fellow Democrats will be in charge of this legislation. They made it clear last month they were very unhappy with President Donald Trump's budget request, which would eliminate 29 department programs and cut 10 percent from its overall budget. 

So what are a few things to watch for? Here's a handy list of programs to keep your eye on.

• Teacher and Principal Training: DeLauro sharply criticized the Trump budget pitch to eliminate about $2.1 billion in spending for educators' professional development. (It's the third time Trump has proposed tossing out this part of Title II entirely.) Title II also has ardent fans in the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, among other educator groups. Will the Democrats' bill give Title II more money? If so, how much more?

• Student Support and Enrichment: This is the $1.2 billion program that supports school safety, student well-being, and academic enrichment. It's been at the center of a firestorm over whether it can and should be used to help arm teachers. Again, Trump wants to eliminate it, and Democrats don't like that idea. From last fiscal year to this one, lawmakers increased its funding by $700 million. The Every Student Succeeds Act authorizes $1.6 billion in funding for Title IV. Will House Democrats want to move it closer (or all the way) to that latter number?

• School Safety National Activities: Speaking of safety, Trump wants $200 million for this line item in the Education Department budget, a $105 million increase. Out of that $200 million, half would go to a new formula grant program Trump and DeVos are proposing. The House bill might not give DeVos precisely what she wants. But it's feasible the lawmakers could throw a few more dollars at this program. 

• Charter School Grants: Trump wants $500 million for charter schools in fiscal 2020. They now get $440 million in grants from the feds in fiscal 2019. DeLauro and other Democrats spent last month's budget hearing blasting waste and fraud in federal spending on charters. Many Democratic Party base voters hold their nose at the mention of charters. Yet less than a year ago, there was bipartisan agreement to increase these charter grants from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2019. And some Democrats have stood by charters. So how will Democrats handle this issue? 

• Education Freedom Scholarships: DeVos wants $5 billion in annual, dollar-for-dollar tax credits—which would be administered by the Department of the Treasury—to support a variety of services in the name of educational choice. DeLauro and Democrats can't abide them. So don't expect to see them in the legislation. 

• Office for Civil Rights: Over the last two-plus years, Democrats have reserved some of their sharpest criticisms of DeVos for how she's handled civil rights enforcement. This office's budget has crept up a little under the Trump administration to $125 million this fiscal year. Yet Democrats might be interested in making the increase a little more dramatic this time around. 

• Big Three: Trump wants to keep Title I for disadvantaged students, special education grants to states, and career and technical education flat-funded flat in fiscal 2020. Those are three of the biggest programs at the Education Department. Will Democrats give more money to one, two, or all of them? 

Photo: Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chairwoman of the House subcommittee for education spending, listens as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill last month. (Andrew Harnik/AP)


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