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The House Focuses on Education Funding for Next Year

Portrait of disabled schoolboy on wheelchair using digital tablet in library at schoolHouse Hearings Focus on Education Budget and Students with Disabilities

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.  

A congressional hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees education spending on Wednesday focused on President Biden’s FY 2022 education spending proposal. It featured an extended conversation between Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and lawmakers about the importance of having students return to in person learning. “The best equity lever we have is in-person learning, now. Not the fall—now,” Cardona told lawmakers during the hearing. “We need to get our kids back, right away.”

Cardona said that Biden’s funding proposal, which would provide an unprecedented increase to the Department of Education, was a way to help schools and teachers assist students in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. “I look at this request as a way to honor the hard work of our educators,” Cardona said. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations full committee and subcommittee, also praised the proposal, stating that the ideas behind it would help reverse “years of underinvestment in our education system.”

President Biden’s budget proposal would provide roughly $103 billion to the Department of Education. The proposal, often referred to as the “skinny” budget, is a blueprint and does not provide a detailed breakdown for the various Education Department programs. We can expect to see a full budget proposal with such details in late May or early June. While the president proposes the budget, Congress ultimately sets the annual federal spending allocations. After the release of the full budget, subcommittees will begin to mark up their bills with the goal of passing all 12 appropriations bills before the fourth of July—an ambitious goal for sure!  If anyone can do it, it is the tenacious Rosa DeLauro who is driving the train as chair.   

On Thursday, the Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing addressing the impact of COVID-19 on students with disabilities. Powerful testimony was provided by former National Teacher of the Year and incoming Council for Exceptional Children President Danielle Kovach. Kovach stressed the critical need for more special education teachers and specialized instructional support personnel in our nation’s schools. She went on to highlight that the shortage of personnel is a crisis that goes beyond the K-12 continuum and stressed the importance of investing in higher education programs that prepare our nation’s special education workforce. Kovach’s overarching message—in order to recover from the pandemic, Congress must fully fund all of IDEA.

Earmarks Return!

We have reported on earmarks before—so here is a recap and an update. Once a time-honored Congressional tradition, earmarks have made their return in both the House and the Senate. Earmarks were banned in 2011 amidst probes of corruption, self-dealing and questionable investments. In essence, earmarks are congressionally directed funding to specific projects in the district or state of the Member of Congress who requests the earmark. They are included in appropriations bills and have often served to garner support for the passage of the bills from Members who were otherwise hesitant to vote “yes.” Many have argued that earmarks “greased the wheels” of Congress enabling bi-partisan support for funding bills, and that a return to the practice would promote bi-partisanship and a more productive Congress.  

While the concept remains the same, House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has completed an overhaul  of the earmark system for this year, which included capping the overall amount of money spent on earmarks to 1% of discretionary spending and allowing lawmakers to submit no more than 10 project requests. Lawmakers and their immediate families cannot have a financial stake in the requests, and funds cannot flow to for-profit recipients.

House members had to submit their requests by Friday and every House Democrat requested at least one earmark for their district with the exception of Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who  previously argued  that even the new process of earmarks will inevitably invite “waste, fraud, and abuse.” In total, 320 out of the 430 House members submitted requests for earmarks—or Community Project Funding—as they are now called. Requests cover the spectrum—ranging from repairing bridges to supporting Habitat for Humanity to suicide prevention programs to food banks. All requests are posted online and you can peruse them here. See what your Representative requested! 

New Resource

AACTE’s Dean in Residence Leslie Fenwick, penned an op-ed in Politico this week that addresses the inequitable distribution of alternate route teachers—disproportionally affecting students of color and students with disabilities.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information.

See you on twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant