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  •  Federal Education Funding Again in Limbo


    Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation

    Congress has passed a second short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), keeping the federal government open and operating through December 20th. With less than a year until the 2020 election, the stakes are high. And the political calculus for the FY 2020 appropriations bills has changed with the Democrats controlling the House and Republicans controlling the Senate.

    To date, the House has passed 10 of 12 annual appropriations bills in two separate legislative packages, while the Senate has passed 4 appropriations bills in a single package. The remaining appropriations bills have stalled over how to apportion already-budgeted funds among the federal agencies. Additionally, House-Senate negotiations to resolve the stalemate have been snagged over the Administration’s border wall. Since border wall appropriations cut across both domestic and defense agencies, its dollars affect the unresolved funding levels of the remaining federal agencies, including the Education Department.

    The difference between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2020 funding bills for K-12 education programs is substantial. The House provides $16.8 billion (a $1 billion increase) for the Elementary and Secondary Education (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 Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) formula grant program for students with disabilities, while the Senate would freeze funding at the current level. Over the last ten years (FY2010-2019), the average annual increase for Title I and IDEA has been less than 1 percent. And, for the current school year, Title I funding increased by a meager 0.6 percent, with IDEA funding increasing by only 0.7 percent.  Federal funding for these two critical programs has failed to kept pace with either student needs or inflation.

    The House bill also provides $2.5 billion (a $500 million increase) for the ESEA Title II program for teacher professional development and class-size reduction; $986 million (a $243 million increase) for the ESEA Title III program for English language learners and recent immigrant students; and $1.3 billion (a $150 million increase) for the ESEA Title IV program for support services, enrichment, and school security.  Except for an increase of $50 million for ESEA Title IV, the Senate would freeze funding levels for each of these K-12 programs as well.

    In a joint letter to the House and Senate prior to Thanksgiving, the Council of the Great City Schools along with other major K-12 education organizations underscored this continuing underinvestment by the federal government. And during the initial weeks of December, local-level outreach efforts to Capitol Hill will call for funding as close to the $1 billion increase for Title I and IDEA that passed the House. House increases for Title II, Title III, and Title IV may also be emphasized in these grassroots efforts.

    The Council is encouraging the Great City Schools districts -- particularly staff in Title I schools and those working with students with disabilities -- to email and call their House and Senate delegations to request active efforts to significantly increase K-12 funding for the coming school year. Congress has the opportunity in this election year to reverse this disturbing trend of underfunding federal education programs for the nation’s neediest school children.