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Legislative Column

  • Year-End Appropriations Bills Increase ESEA and IDEA Funding


    Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation


    The federal government rarely completes its annual funding bills on time, even though the federal fiscal year was changed some 45 ago to begin October 1 rather than on July 1 to give Congress more time to legislate. The “new normal,” however, is that federal funding agreements are made at the end of the calendar year rather than at the beginning of October.   And, these annual funding bills are often packaged into one or more massive “catch-all” legislative measures that cobble together enough bipartisan votes to pass.  

    This year’s FY 2020 appropriations process was true to form. Democrats, Republicans, and the White House secured their own priority items in the two year-end appropriations bills (H.R. 1865 and H.R. 1158) in the final hours of the session.  Included in these year-end measures was funding for all federal agencies, the extension of certain expiring tax breaks, tax changes affecting retirement accounts, and another $1.5 billion for “border wall” construction and replacement. 

    Earlier in August, Congress raised the federal budget ceiling, increasing defense and domestic functions both this year and next. Thankfully, key K-12 education programs benefited from these higher budget caps. Although education funding increases ultimately were not as generous as the earlier House-passed levels, major elementary and secondary education grant programs received substantial new funding. 

    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ( ESEA) Title I program for disadvantaged students received $16.31 billion (a $450 million increase). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) formula grant program for students with disabilities increased to $12.76 billion (a $400 million increase).  The year-end appropriations bill also provided $2.13 billion (a $76 million increase) for the ESEA Title II program for teacher professional development and class-size reduction; $787 million (a $50 million increase) for the ESEA Title III program for English language learners and recent immigrant students; and $1.21 billion (a $40 million increase) for the Title IV program for student support services, enrichment, and school security.

    Obviously, the annual federal appropriations levels have a direct effect on local-level Title I allocations for the upcoming school year.  The annual “poverty count” update provided by the U.S. Census Bureau is also a critical factor in each district’s Title I funding level. The updates provide a statistical adjustment to the decennial census count for school-age children. For the upcoming school year, for example, 53 percent of Great City Schools’ member districts will benefit from having a larger proportionate share of the nation’s school-age poor population than in the previous year’s Census adjustment. The result is more money.

    The importance of full participation in the March 2020 decennial Census Survey cannot be overstated as it will dictate, in large part, how much Title I and other federal funding each school district will receive over the next decade. Promoting the upcoming Census Survey to all urban families will pay substantial financial dividends for the next 10 years. Count everyone!