Congress Chops Education Funding

March 5, 2011

Congress Chops Funding for High-Profile Education Programs

Alyson Klein, Education Week



Photographers record the scene as President Barack Obama finishes signing the two-week funding bill in the Oval Office at the White House on March 2 in Washington.

More than a dozen education programs—including high-profile efforts focused on literacy, teaching, and learning—are looking at the prospect of a permanent federal funding loss after they were chopped from a stopgap spending measure signed into law by President Barack Obama this week.

The new, temporary spending law, intended to keep the government running until March 18 while Democrats and Republicans try to hash out a deal for the rest of the fiscal year, finances most federal programs at fiscal year 2010 levels.

But education programs such as Even Start, Striving Readers, and the privately organized Teach For America, ended up taking dramatic hits after Republican leaders insisted on cuts even in the temporary spending bill. The measure slashes nearly $750 million from the U.S Department of Education’s most recent overall discretionary budget of $46.8 billion, excluding Pell Grant funding.

Literacy programs bore the brunt. Striving Readers, which was financed at $250 million, was eliminated. The Even Start family-literacy effort lost its $67 million appropriation.

The $88 million Smaller Learning Communities program, which gave grants to districts to create more-personalized learning environments, was also scrapped.

Technically, the cuts are only in place for the two-week time period covered under the bill. But their restoration is considered extremely unlikely, given the aggressive push by lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to slim down the federal government.

And those cuts could just be the beginning, as Congress works to hammer out an agreement for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, which began on Oct. 1.

The House has approved a bill that would cut $5 billion out of the Education Department’s current-year budget, including a cut of nearly $700 million to Title I grants to districts, as well as a cut to Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income college students, and money to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. The U.S. Senate has yet to take up the measure.

Education advocates are already worried about what this first round of cuts signals for the future of education spending.

“I do not believe that [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan wanted to sell literacy out. He understands how important it is,” to improving student outcomes said Susan Frost, a vice president of the Sheridan Group, who was a senior adviser in the Education Department during the Clinton administration. “I think we’re now into a very high-level political set of decisions by everyone, and that doesn’t necessarily result in the best decisions for children.”

But budget hawks say that increased spending doesn’t necessarily translate into better student outcomes—and that there is plenty of waste left in the department’s coffers.

“The president … needs to take much more than a scalpel to the Department of Education’s budget—there’s room to take an ax,” said Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.


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