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Legislative Column

  • Education Appropriations Bog Down in the Senate

    By Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation


    Earlier this year, under the new House leadership of Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the House of Representatives passed historic levels of new funding for key federal K-12 education programs. The increases provided by the House rivaled the largest increases in federal school funding in recent decades. The Senate, however, has unveiled an FY 2020 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill with virtually no K-12 funding increases, and the panel has been unable to garner enough support to move through the committee process much less to the Senate floor.

    The stark contrasts in funding levels in the House and Senate bills reflect the latter’s effort to limit the growth of federal spending in general and to realign spending priorities, including funding for the Trump Administration’s border-wall project. Notably, the Senate education funding bill includes a proposed rescission of $1.3 billion in previously appropriated Pell grant funds for low-income college students. If approved, the rescission would reduce the Education Department’s non-entitlement program spending to over $700 million below last year.

    Major differences between House and Senate education appropriations bills are also significant in their elementary and secondary education program allocations. The House provides $16.8 billion (a $1 billion increase) for the cornerstone Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I program for disadvantaged students, while the Senate would freeze funding at the current level. The House provides $13.4 billion (a $1 billion increase) for the landmark Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) formula grant program for students with disabilities, while the Senate would freeze funding at the current level. The House provides $2.5 billion (a $500 million increase) for the ESEA Title II program for teacher professional development and class-size reduction, while the Senate would freeze funding at the current level. The House provides $986 million (a $243 million increase) for the ESEA Title III program for English language learners and recent immigrant students, while the Senate would freeze funding at the current level. And the House provides $1.3 billion (a $150 million increase) for the ESEA Title IV program for support services, enrichment, and school security, while the Senate offers a smaller $50 million increase.

    At the same time, the lengthy transition period to fully implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been completed in most states. But, a recent study by the Center for Education Policy at George Washington University has flagged unintended consequences in multiple states where a disproportionately large number of schools have been identified as low performing and in need of intervention. Conversely, a handful of states have identified fewer than 10 percent of their schools for interventions. Surprisingly, some states have still not identified any schools under the ESSA Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) accountability category.

    A second unpublished study finds that over a dozen large urban school districts have more than 20 percent of their schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and a comparable group of urban school districts have identified between 10 and 20 percent of their schools—not counting schools identified under either the Targeted (TSI) or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) categories. In addition, the lack of attention to subgroup performance in some state accountability plans has muddied the counts of identified schools nationally under the now 4-year-old education law.

    Both studies indicate that the ESSA accountability system may ultimately produce an “overidentification” scenario much like No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Without significant additional federal appropriations to help fund the required ESSA interventions, school districts may struggle to fully implement the 2015 law, and they could be overwhelmed by the high percentage of ESSA identified schools. The Council appreciates the efforts of the Center for Education Policy to document the status of state-level ESSA accountability systems and bring a renewed focus on issues of ESSA “school identification”.