Education: Appropriations Begin as ESEA Put on Hold On Capitol Hill, efforts to reform the programs of the Education Department have bogged down in the Senate, while appropriators on both sides of the Capitol are coming out of the starting blocks quickly on their spending bills for the department. Today, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate will mark up their bills, as the Senate takes time off from its second week of debate on education reathorization legislation to address other matters. On the appropriations front, the chairmen of both Labor-HHS subcommittees have publicly bemoaned what they see as another tight budget year.
Much attention has been paid, this year and last, to House and Senate attempts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the Department of Education. Philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats over the federal role in education, and the sheer size of the effort (the House broke it into a series of separate bills; the Senate version runs many hundreds of pages) have made this a long and controversial process, with no end in sight. Many scientific societies are concerned that professional development grants for science and math teachers could be jeopardized by provisions in the Senate bill to give federal funds to the states with no strings attached. Such block grants would effectively eliminate the current requirement ensuring that, within the Eisenhower Professional Development State Grants program, a certain dollar amount ($250 million for FY 2000) is used for teacher professional development specifically in science and math.
Although the Senate might wrap up its debate on ESEA later this week, efforts to reconcile the House and Senate versions in conference are not expected before summer, and many aspects of the legislation could prompt a veto from President Clinton. Given the shortened legislative calendar and partisan climate in this election year, it is legitimate to question whether the reauthorization legislation will be enacted at all this year. (The purpose of authorization bills is to approve programs, and to set directions and spending limits for the authorized programs. In theory, this guides the appropriations subcommittees as they fund the programs under their jurisdiction with their portion of the available money, referred to as their 302(b) allocation).
Reports indicate that for FY 2001, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee received an allocation of $97,350 million; while the comparable House subcommittee received $95,888 million to fund Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education programs. Based on estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, both subcommittees' allocations are slightly above the FY 2000 funding level for their programs ($95,732 million), but not enough to stay ahead of inflation. The chairmen of both Labor- HHS subcommittees have complained about tight budgets, and both voted against the budget resolution. The Washington Post quoted Senate subcommittee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) as saying "the budget left us insufficient money to take care of the needs." Rep. John Porter (R-IL), the House Labor-HHS subcommittee chairman, claimed that the budget resolution would result in "putting our necks in the noose and handing the president the rope." According to Jack Lew, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, "the numbers simply do not add up" in the Labor-HHS-Education allocation. "It is no surprise that the Republican chairman of the House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee described the appropriations target as a noose around his committee's neck."
Absent a final reauthorization bill, if Labor-HHS appropriators follow what they have done for the past two years, they would provide level funding of $335 million for the Eisenhower Professional Development program and, within that amount, the first $250 million would be reserved for teacher development in science and math. Attempts in early drafts of the spending bills to block grant or decrease the Eisenhower funds have ultimately failed in past years. A new twist this year is that the White House FY 2001 request merges the Eisenhower program into a broader "Teaching to High Standards" initiative. While in other documents, the Administration's proposal for the Education Department indicates an intention to not only preserve the set- aside for math/science professional development but to raise it to $300 million, this increase is not specified in the budget request.
In the absence of guidance from a reathorization bill or greater specificity from the Administration, with education reform as a campaign issue and with the available money tight once again, it remains to be seen whether appropriators will preserve the set- aside for science and math teacher professional development, and at what level.
Audrey T. Leath