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Proposed Ed Budget Down Slightly at $70 Billion; Low Income Students and Early Ed Look To Be Winners

Congress is close to approving a $1 trillion bill to fund the government for 2014 and 2015 that teeters in between the wishes put forward by the White House, the Democrat-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Overall, education is on target to receive $70.6 billion. That's $0.6 billion under the $71.2 billion sought last April by President Barack Obama in his proposed 2014 budget. Beneficiaries in the proposed Congressional budget include low-income students and early childhood education programs.

The first surprise: Pell grants. This funding, which helps about 9 million low-income students pay for college, is pegged at $24.5 billion. In its coverage, the Wall Street Journal quoted Senator Kent Conrad (D., ND) on the Senate floor: "I think most of us understand how important Pell grants are to providing opportunities to young, talented people all across America to improve themselves through higher education."

However, the same budget deal kills federal subsidies for 1.5 million graduate student loans that eliminated the interest lower and middle-income graduate students accrued on their loans while still in school. This was a reform "tradeoff," according to the Journal, put forward by the White House and accepted by Congressional negotiators.

At least one House member, Rep. Trent Franks (R., AZ), said he views the increase in available Pell grants as a mistake because, as the Journal paraphrased him, "they encourage colleges to raise their prices."

The other winner: early childhood education programs, which will see a billion-dollar expansion. The proposed budget offers significant new funding for Head Start, with a total level of $8.6 billion, a 13 percent to 14 percent increase that restores sequestered funds and adds another $612 million to pre-sequestration levels. Of that, $500 million is flagged specifically for Early Head Start (EHS) including EHS-Child Care partnerships. And $250 million of Race to the Top funding will be put aside for competitive grants to develop, expand, or enhance locally grown state preschool programs.

Said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an early learning lobbying organization, "The political will demonstrated by members of Congress tonight is a positive indicator of where early childhood is headed. We expect big things ahead, and will celebrate this milestone."

Added Matthew Melmed, executive director of Zero to Three, an advocacy nonprofit focused on research and policy related to early development, "American families see an urgent need to revive our struggling economy as well as look to the future, and investing in the health, well-being, care and preparation of our infants and toddlers is one of the most effective ways to accomplish that need. [We are] optimistic over the progress made in the proposed funding bill and applaud Appropriations Committee leaders in the House and Senate for returning America's focus to quality investments in our youngest children through programs like Early Head Start after the needless sequester cuts of 2013."

School improvement programs are on board to receive $4.4 billion, including $505 million for school improvement grants to push for more school turnaround models. Those grants will come with an award period of five years instead of the three years they currently have.

One initiative that received no attention in the Congressional budget work was the President's April recommendation that the Department of Education be placed at the center of a major reorganization effort along with the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies to maximize their program efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

 The House is expected to vote on the budget proposal Wednesday.

Department of Education Appropriations Act, 2014

Education for the Disadvantaged

$15,552,693,000

Impact Aid

$1,288,603,000

School Improvement Programs

$4,397,391,000

Indian Education

$123,939,000

Innovation and Improvement

$1,181,317,000

Safe Schools and Citizenship Education

$270,892,000

English Language Acquisition

$723,400,000

Special Education

$12,497,300,000

Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research

$3,680,497,000

Special Institutions for Persons with Disabilities

$24,456,000

National Technical Institution for the Deaf

$66,291,000

Gallaudet University

$119,000,000

Career, Technical and Adult Education

$1,702,686,000

Student Financial Assistance (Pell Grants)

$24,486,210,000

Student Aid Administration

$1,166,000,000

Higher Education

$1,925,408,000

Howard University

$221,821,000

College Housing and Academic Facilities Loans

$435,000

Historically Black College and University

$19,096,000

Institute of Education Sciences

$576,935,000

Departmental Management Program Administration

$422,917,000

Office for Civil Rights

$98,356,000

Office of Inspector General

$57,791,000

TOTAL

$70,603,434,000

Note: Head Start and early childhood funding referenced in the article comes under the Department of Health and Human Services as part of its Children and Families Services Programs.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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