Education: Special Education, Low-Income Schools Win Rare Increases

For Immediate Release:

February 2, 2004

Contact:By Bill Swindell

CQ Staff

In a departure from his clampdown on most domestic spending, President Bush is seeking a 2.9 percent increase for the Education Department's discretionary budget in fiscal 2005.

The administration has proposed $66.4 billion in total budget authority for the department, a 4.8 percent increase over fiscal 2004. The Bush budget request would provide $57.3 billion in discretionary funding for the department in fiscal 2005, an increase of $1.7 billion from fiscal 2004.

As previously announced, Title I schools that serve low-income children would receive a $1 billion increase, for an overall total of $13.3 billion.

The Title I program is a major funding item in the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (PL 107-110), more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The law mandates that states test children in math and reading beginning in the third grade to help poor children catch up with their more affluent peers. Schools face sanctions if they do not show improved test scores.

Education Secretary Rod Paige noted that Bush has increased funding for Title I by 52 percent if his budget request is enacted. "I believe that one day, we will look back on these years and say that this was the turning point," Paige said.

But Democrats say that the Title I budget request is insufficient because No Child Left Behind authorized $7.2 billion more for fiscal 2005 than Bush is proposing.

"President Bush had to choose between honoring his word to public schools, veterans, college students, and Americans looking for jobs, and giving billions more in tax cuts to the richest Americans," said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "His budget makes it clear that he chose to honor the richest Americans."

Special Education

The funding levels are also critical to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 105-17), which Congress hopes to reauthorize this year. The law, commonly known by its acronym IDEA, guarantees disabled children a free public education in the "least restrictive environment."

Bush has proposed a $1 billion increase in special education funding for fiscal 2005 for an overall total of $11.1 billion.

The original 1975 law (PL 94-142) authorized the federal government to reimburse states for up to 40 percent of the average additional per-pupil cost of educating disabled students. Congress only recently has made a concerted effort to reach that 40 percent level; it covered just 18 percent for fiscal 2003. The Bush budget request would reach the 20 percent level.

If it follows its pattern of recent years, Congress will probably appropriate more money for special education than Bush is requesting. The Senate is expected to consider its IDEA reauthorization bill (S 1248), and Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa will push an amendment that would increase funding by $2 billion annually over the next eight years to reach the 40 percent level and make that spending mandatory, not discretionary. The amendment stands a good chance of adoption.

The department proposed an additional $823 million for Pell grants in fiscal 2005 to help more low-income students afford college, bringing the program's total to $12.9 billion. In addition, it requested $33 million for a pilot program for Pell grant applicants who complete a rigorous high school curriculum. While that increase may win approval, lawmakers face a bigger problem. The Pell grant program is underfunded by $3.7 billion for the 2004-05 academic year, and Bush has so far ruled out a supplemental spending bill for fiscal 2004 to cover any emergency needs.

Congress will weigh in on that issue as it attempts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (PL 105-244), the primary measure that regulates federal aid to postsecondary students and schools.

To provide these funding increases, the department proposed to cut 38 education programs totaling more than $1.4 billion. Those include Even Start programs for family literacy efforts, which received $247 million in fiscal 2004, and the Comprehensive School Reform program, which provides aid to help overhaul low-performing schools in poverty areas and which received $234 million in fiscal 2004.

But many of those programs have allies in Congress and are unlikely to be eliminated. For example, the department proposed eliminating 45 programs in its fiscal 2004 budget, but Congress agreed to scrap only five.