Education funds are spared the ax in House spending bill

Liz Goodwin

Education advocates who feared that a deficit-minded Congress would slash education funding will find two happy surprises in the House Democrats' proposed spending bill.

Though the bill would freeze most agency budgets and federal salaries at 2010 levels in a nod to worries about the national deficit,  funding for higher-education grants and the Obama administration's pet K-12 reform program escaped relatively unscathed. (Here's a summary of the spending bill.)

The Department of Education's Race to the Top program would get a $550 million infusion for the rest of the fiscal year. That's less than the $800 million the administration asked for, but more than the $300 million House Democrats were threatening to approve as the annual budget. The new program encourages states to adopt Obama-approved reforms like developing charter schools and experimenting with linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. Race to the Top was funded with more than $4 billion in stimulus funds, so the spending decline will probably change the nature of the program, EdWeek writer Alyson Klein says: Will states still want to wrangle with unions and change their education policies when the ultimate payoff is much smaller?

The main K-12 spending bill, the massive No Child Left Behind measure, will probably be discussed next year, but the $550 million outlay suggests that House Democrats are still on board with Obama's education reform agenda.

On the higher-education front, the bill provides $5.7 billion to Pell Grants, to cover the shortfall that the popular program for low-income students faces next year. If Congress fails to restore this funding, 8.7 million Pell Grant recipients would see their grant cut by an average of 15 percent. The current maximum grant is $5,550.

If this spending bill passes, K-12 and higher-education funding will still probably face steep cuts on the state level, where governors are scrambling to meet budget shortfalls.

The Senate is working on its own "omnibus" spending measure that allots $20 billion more than the House's version. It's unclear which bill will prevail.

(Photo of Education Secretary Arne Duncan: AP)