Policy & Funding

Senate Ed Appropriations Subcommittee Approves $68.3 Billion in Discretionary Spending

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee has unanimously approved a funding bill for fiscal year 2018 that includes $68.3 billion in discretionary funding for the United States Department of Education, a $29 million increase over the previous year's budget.

The bill increases funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants — a provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calling for $1.6 billion in funding and known as Title IV — by $50 million to $450 million. The SSAE is a "flexible formula block grant to help support activities to provide students with a well-rounded education, including STEM education; ensure safe and supportive learning environments; and use technology to improve instruction," according to information released by the subcommittee.

President Trump's proposed budget for FY2018 would eliminate Title IV grants completely. Nevertheless, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is "deeply disappointed" in the subcommittee's failure to fund the program further, according to a statement released by the non-profit agency.

"By modestly increasing funding for the program, the subcommittee's decision continues a disturbing trend," according to the organization's statement. "The House Appropriations Committee has agreed to just $500 million in program funding in FY 2018. This waning digital commitment among U.S. policymakers will affect learning experiences and outcomes in schools nationwide. 

"We urge Congress to fully fund the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program and lift the spending caps of the Budget Control Act," the statement continues. "These actions would advance, rather than hamper, America's public education system and technology infrastructure."

"We must support increased funding in education, period," said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta. "While we recognize and appreciate the increase in funding for Title IV, Part A, we are concerned that the program is still only funded at a fraction of the level approved by Congress only a year ago. This dramatically constrains states from providing support to schools and districts in using technology to transform learning."

The move is one of four called for in the bill to support flexibility at the state and local level for elementary and secondary education. Other provisions in this vain include:

  • A $25 million increase in Title I grants to local education agencies (LEAs) for a total of $15.5 billion;
  • $367 million, also a $25 million increase over the current year, for the start-up, replication and expansion of charter schools; and
  • $1.3 billion, an $11.5 million increase from FY2017, to impact aid, which provides funding for schools and districts, such as those on tribal land or military bases, impacted by federally owned land or federal activities.

"The FY2018 Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill will help States to meet the promise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, by funding vital programs designed to build the capacity of educators and systems that will help students succeed," said Maria Worthen, iNACOL vice president of federal and state policy, in an email. "ESSA gives states a historic opportunity to transform K-12 education toward personalized, student-centered learning; it represents a marked shift in federal control to states, presenting state and local stakeholders with important opportunities and flexibilities to redefine student success and the goals of the United States education system."

The proposed budget would maintain spending for Title II, Section A of ESSA at $2.05 billion, which priovides funding for preparing, training and recruiting teachers and another section of the education act that Trump suggested eliminating funding for in his proposed budget.

"In order to prepare our students to thrive in a globally connected world, teachers must have the support they need," said Culatta, in a prepared statement. "When teachers know how to use technology effectively, we see amazing results. Funding Title II, Part A is a step in the right direction, but we must also support leadership in states and districts to turn the potential of technology into a reality of transformed learning for students."

The bill features the first discretionary increase to the maximum Pell Grant in more than a decade, up to $6,020 from $5,920, a 1.7-percent bump. That increase, however, merely offsets the expiration of an automatic yearly increase in place from 2007-2017.

Funding for TRIO programs will receive a modest $3 million increase if the bill passes, up to $953 million. "TRIO Programs are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds," according to information released by ED.

Other programs for which the bill maintains funding, and their funding levels, include:

  • $12 billion for IDEA Grants to States (Part B, Section 611);
  • $2.1 billion for Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants;
  • $1.2 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers;
  • $1.1 billion for Career and Technical Education State Grants;
  • $990 million for Federal Work Study; and
  • $733 million for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

The full committee is scheduled to consider the bill Thursday.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].