Senate passes education funding bill

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a Fiscal Year 2019 funding bill that adds a little over $500 million to federal funding on K-12 public schools. The $71.6 billion measure must be reconciled this fall with a similar bill in the House of Representatives, which authorizes about $2 billion less than the Senate. The National School Boards Association is urging school boards to ask their Members of Congress to maximize funding for Title I, special education and related federal education programs.

Controversy erupted Thursday when it was reported Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was considering allowing schools to use Title IV (“Student Support and Enrichment Grants”) to buy guns for teachers. A Department spokeswoman said the issue had been “blown way out of proportion” after Texas and Oklahoma education officials sought guidance about whether they could purchase guns with the federal money. Title IV neither authorizes nor prohibits spending on firearms; the money can be used for a variety of programs, including student wellness, education technology, and student safety.

Kansas public schools have traditionally received roughly $300 million in annual federal funding. That appropriation is slated to decrease by about $50 million in FY19, including a $9.5 million cut to Title I, because federal funding depends in part on state per-pupil spending in the 2015-16 school year. Kansas school funding was frozen that year by the state legislative block grant. The federal Title I formula also considers the number of children in poverty (which was down in Kansas) and the number of children above the federal poverty level who receive basic support from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Kansas lawmakers have made a policy choice not to provide TANF basic assistance to families above the federal poverty level. Officials at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) don’t expect the impact of recent state K-12 funding increases to show up in the state’s federal allocation until 2020.

The Senate-passed bill adds $125 million to Title I funding for disadvantaged students; level-funds Title II professional development at $2 billion; adds $125 million to special education for a total of $13.3 billion; and increases Title IV spending by a little over $1 billion. Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding is flat at $1.2 billion. The 21st Century Community Learning Center grants program is also level-funded at $1.2 billion.

The Senate ignored the Trump Administration’s proposals to add $1 billion in school “choice” programs and to merge the Department of Education and Department of Labor. House appropriators also rebuffed those attempts.

The House of Representatives in on recess and will not return to Washington, D.C. until September 4.

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