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Senate Education Spending Bill Would Increase Aid for School Safety, Charters

The Senate's bill to fund the U.S. Department of Education would keep overall spending virtually flat, although grants for charter schools would get a relatively small increase, as would programs intended to improve school safety. 

The legislation to fund the Education Department would provide $71.4 billion in discretionary funding to the agency for fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1. Another winner in the bill is the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program—officially known as Title IV Part A in the Every Student Succeeds Act—intended to provide more well-rounded school experiences to students. The Senate bill would provide a $50 million boost to these grants, bringing total funding to just over $1.2 billion.

However, one relatively small program popular among Democrats would lose out; see more on that below.

Given how different the Senate bill is from the education funding legislation passed by the Democratically-controlled House earlier this year, it's fair to expect a significant amount of political wrangling before Congress finally reaches a deal on how much Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will have to spend next year. Just to name one example, the House legislation seeks to cut charter school aid by nearly 10 percent.

However, it's also important to note that most, if not all, of the major fights over the bill might not focus on education at all, since the legislation also funds the Health and Human Services and Labor Departments; Democrats and Republicans have big disagreements over HHS in particular. 

In fact, although the fiscal year starts in roughly two weeks, it may be much longer than that before such a deal is reached, while Congress passes several short-term spending bills to keep the government open.

The GOP Senate bill also ignores several dramatic cuts to the department proposed by the Trump administration in its fiscal 2020 budget blueprint. It marks the third year running that Republican senators have ignored the calls for big education cuts from President Donald Trump and DeVos. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chairman of the Senate subcommittee overseeing education spending, said in a Wednesday statement that the bill "maintains funding for core elementary and secondary education formula grants." In practical terms, that means funding for Title I funding for disadvantaged students ($15.9 billion), state special education grants ($12.4 billion), and funding for career and technical education programs ($1.3 billion) remain level in the Senate legislation.

A scheduled hearing on the legislation was nixed earlier this month. And it's possible the Senate will vote on the legislation without giving it a formal committee or subcommittee hearing.

  • The federal Charter School Grant program gets $460 million in the Senate legislation, a $20 million increase from current spending. Specifically, the legislation calls for $7.5 million in aid to expand charters in rural areas.
  • The School Safety National Activities gets a $10 million boost, up to $105 million, in order to prevent violence and improve school climates.
  • Another winner is Impact Aid, which provides money for school impacted by federal activities such as military installations, which would get a $25 million boost up to around $1.5 billion. 

One loser in the Senate bill? The grants for Full-Service Community Schools, which aim to provide expanded educational opportunities and a variety of wraparound health and social services. While House Democrats want $40 million for community schools, a $22 million increase over current spending, the Senate bill would eliminate funding. Trump's budget would also eliminate federal aid to community schools. 

One more thing: Remember all the drama around Special Olympics funding earlier this year? The Senate bill would boost aid to the program by $2.5 million, bringing total aid to just over $20 million in fiscal 2020. You shouldn't be all that surprised: Tim Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, has called Blunt the program's "biggest ally in Congress." 

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