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House Bill Would Boost K-12 Aid by Over $500 Million, but Cut Charter School Fund

UPDATED

The spending bill for the next fiscal year from House Democrats would increase spending on federal programs for low-income students, children with special needs, and for social-emotional learning—but the federal fund used to expand charter schools would lose nearly 10 percent of its money.

The fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Education was released Monday by the House appropriations committee. It aligns with previous Democratic pushes to increase funding for Title I education for the disadvantaged and Individuals with Disabilities Education state grants. However, there's a good chance that the annual appropriations process might not make real headway for several months; in fact, it's possible that Congress will simply roll over current spending well beyond Sept. 30, when fiscal 2020 is due to end. 

On Tuesday, the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the department's budget advanced the bill to the full committee. 

The legislation "represents our critical work to defeat the coronavirus" and builds upon previous plans to counter the virus, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chairwoman of the House subcommittee. But the bill released Monday isn't really focused on providing emergency relief for schools. For more on what a coronavirus bailout for education might focus on, go here. The subcommittee responsible for the department's budget in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, has yet to release an education appropriations bill for fiscal 20201. 

The Education Department's current budget is $72.8 billion, a $1.3 billion increase from fiscal 2019. President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to cut the department's spending, to no avail. 

Here are a few highlights from the House Democrats' appropriations bill, according to a summary from the committee:

  • Title I grants to local school districts for disadvantaged children would receive $16.6 billion, an increase of $254 million. 
  • Special education would receive $14.1 billion, or $208 more than what it gets now. Included in that is a $194 million increase for state special education grants, taking total funding to $13 billion. And remember the drama over the Special Olympics? That program would get $25 million, or $5 million above the current level.
  • Title II grants to support educator professional development would get $2.2 billion, a $23 million increase. 
  • Title IV grants to back academic enrichment and students supports—known in education wonk world as "the big block grant"—would get $1.2 billion, a $10 million increase
  • Federal after-school funding, through the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centerswould get $1.3 billion, a $13 million increase. (Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House appropriations committee, is retiring at the end of this Congress.)
  • Democrats sought to cut charter school expansion grants in their fiscal 2020 spending plans, and they want to try again this time. The Charter School Program grants would fall to $400 million in the new spending bill, a $40 million decline. (Ultimately, charter school grants stayed flat in the fiscal 2020 budget at $440 million.) The program once received bipartisan support without much drama, but Democrats have become more publicly skeptical of federal support for charter expansion recently. 
  • A social-emotional learning program would receive $172 million, including $45 million in new spending within the Education Innovation and Research program. 
  • Head Start, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, would receive $10.8 billion, a $150 million boost. 
  • Preschool Development Grants, which are also administered by HHS, would receive $300 million, a $25 million increase.
  • State grants for career and technical education would receive $1.3 billion, an $18 million increase. 

Trump's fiscal 2021 proposal for the Education Department, which the administration released in February, would merge 29 programs, including Title I and Title II, into a $19.4 billion block grant. That figure represents nearly an 8 percent cut from the combined spending on those programs. The proposed block grant includes most of what's authorized in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said this new grant would allow states to gain greater control over how they spend federal funds. However, like presidential fiscal blueprints in general, the key elements of the pitch will likely be ignored on Capitol Hill. 


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