A Washington Update

Budget Battles — Round One
For the last several weeks, the focus of work and concern in Washington, D.C., has been the passage of the fiscal year 2011 federal budget and the threat of a Federal government shutdown. With their backs against the wall, congressional leadership and President Obama cut a deal to finalize the budget for FY 2011, although there are only five months left in the current fiscal year. The next hurdle is the FY 2012 budget. And this too will be a dogfight, but the fight will be coupled with the battle over the extension of the country’s debt ceiling that needs to be raised by the middle of May or the nation technically goes into default.

On Thursday, April 14, the House passed HR 1473, the Department of Defense and Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act 2011, which keeps the government running through the end of September and cuts $38.5 billion in federal spending. The bill passed the House on a bipartisan 260-to-167 vote, with 179 Republicans and 81 Democrats voting in favor; 59 Republicans and 108 Democrats opposed the measure. The Senate passed it with a vote of 81 to 19 with 3 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 1 Independent voting against the bill. President Obama signed the budget bill on Friday, April 15, as the current continuing resolution expired and a shutdown was averted.

On Friday, April 15, the House passed the FY 2012 budget plan written by Congressman Paul Ryan (Wis.) who chairs the House Budget Committee. The vote was 235-193 with four Republicans voting with the Democrats. Next up is the Senate, but it is unlikely to pass this bill. Of note, this is not an appropriations bill but a blueprint usually drafted by the party in the majority in the House for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond. This year’s blueprint includes the House Republican strategy to reduce the budget deficit over the next several years.

The following is an initial summary of program cuts, eliminations, increases and policy changes made to the FY 2011 budget. Until the U.S. Department of Education releases its table that shows the official interpretation of the continuing appropriation, the following numbers are subject to change and may not be complete.

The text has been posted on the House and Senate appropriations Websites. The Education section begins on page 325. Also, it should be noted that all programs are subject to a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut, which is not reflected in the numbers below.

Many programs were not spared the “budget ax” including some favorites of members of Congress and the administration. ESEA Title I and IDEA were not touched.

Program increases:
  • Race to The Top gets $700 million. It appears these funds will go to states, not LEAs. It adds a new provision to the program by allowing funds to go to states for what essentially is the administration's Early Learning Challenge Fund (see pages 328-329)

  • Investing in Innovation gets $150 million

  • Promise Neighborhoods gets a total of $30 million ($20 million increase)

Program cuts and eliminations (amount a program was cut and status):
  • ESEA evaluation -$1 million
  • School Improvement Grants  -$10 million

  • Striving Readers  -$250 million (eliminated)

  • Even Start  -$66.5 million (eliminated)

  • Literacy Through School Libraries -$19.1 million (eliminated)

  • Education technology state grants -$100 million (eliminated)

  • Arts in Education -$40 million (eliminated)

  • Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners -$8.8 million (eliminated)

  • National Writing Project -$25.6 million (eliminated)

  • Reading is Fundamental -$24.8 million (eliminated)

  • Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program -$7.5 million (eliminated)

  • State Assessments  -$20 million

  • Comprehensive Centers  -$5 million

  • Teacher Quality State Grants -$5 million (earmark for New Leaders for New Schools)

  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards -$10.6 million (eliminated)

  • Close-up Fellowships  -$1.9 million (eliminated)

  • Teach for America -$18 million (eliminated)

  • Teaching of Traditional American History -$73 million

  • Grants to gulf coast states' LEAs  -$12 million (eliminated)
  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Programs -$97 million

  • English Language Acquisition State Grants  -$15 million

  • Special Olympics  -$8.1 million (eliminated)

  • Recordings for the Blind  -$13.3 million

  • FIE projects (Earmarks)  -$88 million

  • Smaller Learning Communities  -$88 million (eliminated)

  • Training for Incarcerated Individuals  -$17.2 million (eliminated)

  • LEAP  -$63.9 million (eliminated)
  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants -$20 million
TRIO -$25 million

  • GEAR UP -$20 million

  • Byrd scholarships -$42 million (eliminated)

  • Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions  -$15.1 million (eliminated)

  • Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Vocational Institutions -$8.2 million (eliminated)

  • Higher Education Demonstration Projects for Persons with Disabilities -$6.8 million (eliminated)

  • Thurgood Marshall Legal Scholarships -$3 million (eliminated)

  • B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship  -$1 million (eliminated)

  • Underground Railroad program -$1.9 million (eliminated)

  • B.A. and Master’s STEM Foreign Language Teacher Training -$2.2 million (eliminated)

  • Javits Fellowships -$1.6 million

  • FIPSE -$101.5 million (earmarks)

  • Emma Byrd Scholarships -$1.5 million (eliminated)

  • Regional Education Labs -$13 million

There will be a new one percent competitive set-aside ($29.4 million) within the Teacher Quality State Grants program so groups such as Teach for America, National Writing Project and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards will be eligible to compete for funding after their earmark funding was eliminated.

The section on the D.C. voucher program starts on page 425. 

The Pell maximum award is maintained at $5,550 and $23.002 billion is appropriated. For Pell its assumptions are:
  • Limit Pell grants to six years (12 semesters)

  • Eliminate College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 [CCRAA] provisions, such as the expansions of the level at which a student qualifies for an automatic zero '”Expected Family Contribution” [EFC] and the income protection allowance
  • Eliminate administrative fees paid to participating institutions
  • Consider a maximum income cap
  • Eliminate eligibility for less-than-half-time students
  • Terminate eligibility for those who currently receive the minimum award
  • Lower the maximum award (apparently to pre-ARRA levels)

However, according to a CBO analysis of HR 1473, in the end only $352 million was in deficit reduction in this budget deal. Is it always smoke and mirrors? “About $8 billion in immediate cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending, and when war funding is factored in, the deal actually increases spending by $3.3 billion. The numbers show how hard it is to reduce the deficit quickly, even when both sides say it is their goal” (Washington Post).

School Construction Legislation Introduced
Senator Rockefeller (W.V.) introduced on April 13th, S. 796 to amend the Internal Revenue Code to extend qualified school construction bonds and qualified zone academy bonds, and to treat qualified zone academy bonds, as specified tax credit bonds, and to modify the private business contribution requirement for qualified zone academy bonds. This is a major help if passed to continue the availability of federal funds for new school construction and school modernization.

Heard on the Hill
Recently Congressman Duncan Hunter (Calif.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, stated, “ESEA will be reauthorized by the end this year.” This is a very different message than what many have heard or perceived over the last several months. After talking with very reliable sources, the feeling is that every effort is being made by the House Committee  (and staff) to have a bill completed and passed by the House before the end of 2011. Also, there have been meetings on the Senate side among staff on reauthorization and there is a rumor that they are coming to some agreements on policy and content so they can begin to draft a bill. If all of this comes to pass and the stars align, there is potential for a conference before the end of the year.

The big question is what will be included in each house’s bill and what shape the bill would take. If one were to guess, based on what just transpired to finalize the FY 2011 appropriations, and the proposal by Senator Alexander (Tenn.), former U.S. Secretary of Education, to focus on the major pieces of ESEA, then the department’s blueprint for ESEA becomes more of an outline on how the reauthorization may take shape.

Yes, this is all very optimistic. But it is a very different tone and constructive outlook than was heard and transmitted as late as two months ago. While many inside the Beltway are still very pessimistic that an ESEA reauthorization will be completed in 2011, the pundits and wonks have been wrong in the past and underestimated the will of members of Congress to do what needed to be done despite the politics. Time will tell.

Frederick (Fritz) S. Edelstein, Ph.D. is a principal in Public Private Action, LLC. Fritz works with clients on strategic government and constituent relations, advocacy research and policy analysis, strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and public engagement. He writes and disseminates “Fritzwire,” the nation’s leading Internet newsletter on education that provides timely education and related information, five days a week. His career includes time working at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, U.S. Department of Education and the National Alliance of Business. Fritz earned is B.A. from Washington University, and a M.Ed. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.