U.S. House and Senate Advance Federal Education Spending Bills

Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress have approved Fiscal Year 2016 funding bills for K-12 and early education programs, clearing the way for floor debate in each house.

Last week’s three-day series of subcommittee and committee meetings about the respective House and Senate bills marked the first time in six years that the House Appropriations Committee had convened formally to consider a distinct fiscal year spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and related agencies. It also marked the first time in recent years that committees in both houses have reported such a bill months before the start of a new federal fiscal year (Oct.1).

For the last several years, due to factors including political gridlock, Congress has handled funding matters by consolidating various appropriations measures into omnibus bills and by adopting a series of funding extensions, known as continuing resolutions.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2016 spending plan would provide $65.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, a reduction of $1.7 billion from fiscal 2015. It was passed by majority Republicans on a party-line vote, 16-14.

The Senate version increases spending for Title I for low-income children, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and charter schools. In addition to cutting funding for various education programs, the Senate version also eliminates 10 programs entirely, including Investing in Innovation, Striving Readers, and Preschool Development Grants. In addition, the Senate version would prohibit the federal government from mandating or incentivizing the adoption of any specific set of standards or assessments, including the Common Core State Standards. You can read the details of the Senate appropriations bill here, as reported by Education Week’s Politics K-12 Blog.

That Blog also reported that debate during both the Senate and House committee discussions focused on when, how or if members of Congress will strike a new budget deal to avert the across-the-board funding cuts known as “sequestration.”

In recent years, Congress has been able to come up with a temporary deal to alleviate the cuts for both military programs and domestic ones, like education; however, that deal expires this fall, and then the across-the-board 8 percent cuts return in full force.

The House Appropriations proposal, as described by Education Week’s Politics K-12 Blog, provides the Education Department and federal education programs with $64.4 billion, a reduction of $2.8 billion from fiscal 2015, and it eliminates 20 programs entirely. However, it maintains Title I funding at $14.5 billion and provides a $500 million spending increase for IDEA.

The House plan, which adheres to the mandatory spending caps known as the sequester (and in several areas actually makes steeper cuts), was approved by the House committee on party-line vote, 30-21.

President Obama has vowed to veto any spending bill that locks in sequester-level funding, meaning that the current appropriations bills moving through the House and Senate likely won’t become law in their current form.