The Senate took another step this week towards passing fiscal year 2013 funding for education programs when the Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted to approve an appropriations bill for those agencies. While the subcommittee hasn’t yet made the bill text available, a summary document reveals some (though not all) key details.
Nearly all federal education programs are funded one year at time through the annual appropriations process, and the Senate Subcommittee vote is a first step in that process. Yet this action is a far cry from the end of the annual appropriations process. In fact, we’d be surprised if Democratic leaders in the Senate bring the bill to a vote before the full Senate, or if Congress manages to finalize fiscal year 2013 education funding at any point before the November elections given that the education funding bill is one of the most contentious. (Fiscal year 2013 begins on October 1, 2012, but Congress is likely to provide stop-gap funding in the meantime.) That means the Senate subcommittee bill is more like a starting point for the Democratic majority in eventual post-election negotiations on fiscal year 2013 education funding with the House of Representatives.
The Senate Subcommittee’s appropriations bill would provide overall funding of $68.52 billion to the Department of Education, a slight increase from the $68.11 billion that Congress provided the Department for fiscal year 2012. That overall spending limit is static due mainly to new spending limits Congress and the president adopted last year as part of a debt ceiling agreement. That agreement, the Budget Control Act, sets an overall appropriations limit of $1.047 trillion for fiscal year 2013. That’s just a $4 billion increase from 2012 to be shared among all federal agencies. You can track the budget and appropriations process on our background page
On the PreK-12 side, the Senate bill would provide Title I funding for economically disadvantaged students and IDEA Part B state grants for special education each an extra $100 million over 2012 levels, up to $14.6 billion and $11.7 billion, respectively. That’s not a huge increase given the size of the programs, but any increase when Congress must keep overall funding flat is good news.
Even some controversial programs would get a bump under the Subcommittee’s bill. For example, the bill would provide Race to the Top, an Obama administration favorite, with $600 million, $51 million more than in 2012. (An unspecified “significant portion” of that money will be reserved for another round of the Early Learning Challenge Race to the Top, according to a subcommittee summary.) Promise Neighborhoods, a relatively new program that provides funding for community-based interventions, would receive $80 million. That’s a $20 million increase from fiscal year 2012. And Investing in Innovation (i3) would be funded at 2012 levels ($149 million). ARPA-ED, however, an innovative research and design program the president floated unsuccessfully in both his fiscal year 2012 and 2013 budgets, would receive a portion of that funding.
The subcommittee made some changes to higher education programs, too. One provision in the bill would ban postsecondary institutions from using federal dollars for marketing purposes or for recruiting students. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) with Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) proposed this change a few months ago as part of the Protecting Financial Aid for Students and Taxpayers Act, primarily targeting for-profit colleges’ allegedly-unethical recruiting practices. (It is unclear whether the appropriations bill includes language identical to the Harkin-Hagan bill or another, more comprehensive version of it.)
In acknowledgement of the national conversation around college costs and completion, the Senate panel also included a new, relatively small-scale initiative. The First in the World program, another proposal the president made in his 2012 State of the Union address but saw rejected by Congress last year, would funnel $40 million in grants to colleges and universities to attempt new cost-cutting and outcome-improving strategies.
Unlike past years, there’s no high-stakes Pell Grant funding battle with the Senate bill. In fact, Congress can cut the 2012 appropriation and still increase the grants that students will get. That’s because last year’s Budget Control Act included a supplemental $7 billion for Pell Grants for fiscal year 2013, and the Department of Education says the program wasn’t as expensive as anticipated over past years, so it’s racked up a surplus that can be spent on the fiscal year 2013 grant.
Separately, an automatic inflationary increase in the maximum grant becomes available in fiscal year 2013 (though that amount hasn’t been finalized yet and the Senate Subcommittee and the Congressional Budget Office differ on how large it will be). The 2010 Health Care and Reconciliation Act provided permanent funding for inflationary increases starting in 2013, so Congress doesn’t need to fund them through the appropriations process. Add it all up and the Senate bill funds a maximum grant of $5,645, up from $5,550 in the past few years. (A detailed table of Pell Grant funding is available here.)
Congress is still a long way from finalizing fiscal year 2013 funding for education programs. But the Appropriations Subcommittee bill at least shows where Senate Democrats’ will start negotiations this fall. Check back with Ed Money Watch throughout the budget process for more updates and analysis.