Policy | News

House Passes Appropriations Bill, 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. The bill passed in the United States House of Representatives today 359-67 and will next be taken up in the Senate.

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.

Department of Education Appropriations Act, 2014

Education for the Disadvantaged


Impact Aid


School Improvement Programs


Indian Education


Innovation and Improvement


Safe Schools and Citizenship Education


English Language Acquisition


Special Education


Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research


Special Institutions for Persons with Disabilities


National Technical Institution for the Deaf


Gallaudet University


Career, Technical and Adult Education


Student Financial Assistance (Pell Grants)


Student Aid Administration


Higher Education


Howard University


College Housing and Academic Facilities Loans


Historically Black College and University


Institute of Education Sciences


Departmental Management Program Administration


Office for Civil Rights


Office of Inspector General




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 former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.