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Budget Bill Seeks Immediate Education Increases

Last fall, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate decided not to fight with the Bush White House over education spending for fiscal 2009, which began last Oct. 1. Instead, they approved only temporary spending in hopes of negotiating a more favorable pact with Bush’s successor.


After winning their gamble, Democratic congressional leaders — with a friendlier President Barack Obama in the Oval Office — now are proposing significant education increases for the as-yet unfinished fiscal 2009 federal budget.


With the economic stimulus package behind them, Capitol Hill leaders now are turning their attention back to the 2009 budget. This week, they are proposing significant increases for many K-12 and higher education programs and rejecting the Bush administration’s proposed cuts for minority-serving institutions and other initiatives such as the GEAR-UP program, which helps prepare disadvantaged high school students for college.


The new bill, for example, rejects cuts in federal spending for tribal colleges, historically Black institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions. According to House Democrats, HBCUs would receive $238 million, up $85 million from the Bush request, while HSIs would reclaim $19 million in spending, for a total budget of $93 million.


Tribal colleges would receive $23 million, the same as 2008 spending, even though the Bush administration had proposed no new discretionary spending.


Under the new bill, H.R. 1105, Pell Grants would receive another $3 billion, enough to provide another increase of about $600 in the maximum grant. The plan also rejects the Bush administration’s proposal to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, another need-based program. Instead, the bill would provide level funding of $757 million.


“This bill works in harmony with the economic recovery package, making investments that address the country’s immediate needs while investing in our long-term economic strength,” said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.


But Republicans signaled that they will fight this bill in the same way they contested the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation. They portrayed this new $410 billion budget bill as too expensive for the current economic climate.


“Out-of-control government spending is not the answer to helping Americans get back to work,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the House Republican Conference. “It’s time that Washington ends its spending spree and live within its means like American families are forced to do.”


Elsewhere, the new bill would provide:


n       $67 million for the federal Perkins Loan program, for which the Bush administration had proposed termination;

n       $20 million more for federal TRIO programs, or total funding of $848 million;

n       a $10 million increase for GEAR UP, or total funding of $313 million;

n       $63 million for the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships, a matching student aid grant program to states, which the Bush administration had sought to terminate;

n       $234 million for Howard University, a $1 million increase above current funding; and

n       $1.1 billion for career and technical education, up $370 million from Bush’s original request.


Important K-12 pipeline programs also would see some moderate increases under the budget proposal.

Title I grants to low-income schools would receive an additional $593 million, for total funding of $14.5 billion this year. State grants for special education would jump by more than $500 million, to $11.5 billion.


Head Start would receive an additional $235 million, for total funding of $7.1 billion.


All three of these pipeline programs also received moderate to large increases in the recent economic stimulus package.


This 2009 budget bill still will need formal endorsements from the House and Senate. While Democrats control both chambers, they lack a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, where approval may be a challenge. There was no immediate timetable for votes, although temporary spending for these programs expires in March.


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