Congress averted a government shutdown after passing a stopgap funding bill to keep federal agencies open for another week so officials could hash out a longer-term agreement. The House passed the bill, 382–30, with the Senate unanimously following soon thereafter. Just a few days later, officials reached an agreement on a final spending package for fiscal year (FY) 2017. This bill would fund federal agencies and programs through September 30, 2017, but hasn’t officially become law yet. If it passes as is, what will it mean for education? (*Updated: As of May 5, this bill is now law, HR 244 the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017).
For reference, the final FY2017 spending package will affect federal dollars that school districts receive for the 2017–2018 school year (SY), and FY2018 dollars will affect districts in SY 2018–2019. The 1,600+ page text of the FY2017 agreement is available here, but President Trump’s full FY2018 budget won’t be out until later this month. So, what does the $1 trillion FY2017 bill say about education funding? Below are some highlights, but here is a summary of the labor, health and human services, and education (L-HHS-ED) section of the bill (with education starting on page 48). For more information, find the House Appropriations Committee’s summaries of the bill here and here, and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s summary here.
- Education Department (ED) Funding. The Committee for Education Funding (CEF) says that discretionary funding for the Departments of L-HHS-ED would be cut by $1.1 billion below FY2016’s level. ED would receive $68.2 billion (a net cut of $1.1 billion after including the bill’s rescission of $1.3 billion from Pell Grant reserves).
- Pell Grants: The agreement would restore year-round Pell grants, a priority for higher education institutions, which would “provide 1 million students with an additional average Pell grant award of $1,650.” However, CEF says funding is frozen at the FY2016 level and the FY2017 bill would rescind $1.3 billion of the program’s surplus/reserve funding to help pay for other education programs. POLITICO notes that even with this cut, the “maximum Pell grant award will increase $105 to $5,920” starting in SY 2017–2018.
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
- Title I: Title I grants would increase by 4%, or $550 million, to a total of $15.5 billion.
- Title II: Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants would be cut by 13%, or $294 million, as opposed to the President’s budget request that would eliminate it altogether.
- Title IV-A: ESSA’s large block grant, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, would receive $400 million in funding. Congress authorized $1.65 billion for them when ESSA became law, but tight federal spending constraints are limiting funding. Grant dollars can be used to fund everything from providing well-rounded education programs (STEM, art/music, civics, etc.), to improving school climate, to implementing new K–12 education technology.
- Since funding is so low, the FY2017 bill would provide states the option of distributing funds to districts on a competitive basis for this year only (instead of by formula as originally intended). Sources on the Hill say that if a state chooses to distribute the grants competitively, the state will have to ensure that:
- At least 20% of funds are distributed to districts for well-rounded programs;
- At least 20% are for promoting safe/healthy school climates; and
- The remaining 60% can be used for any or all three of the program buckets, including education technology. (States get to decide what to do with the remaining 60% of funds.)
- Districts can apply for one, two, or all three of the buckets and must complete a needs assessment prior to applying to receive funds from the state. Priority must be given to high-needs districts and ensure geographic diversity among recipients representing rural, suburban, and urban areas.
- If funds are distributed competitively, there is a 25% cap on the amount of funds that can be used for technology infrastructure purchases; this cap is 15% if dollars are allocated by formula. The minimum grant award is $10,000 and the duration is for one year. Districts will have until September 30, 2018 to obligate the funds.
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Funding. The bill would boost IDEA special education grants to states by $59 million from FY2016 (a total of $12 billion), to maintain the current federal share (16%) of special education funding to states.
- School Choice Programs. The agreement would reauthorize Washington, D.C.’s private school voucher program under the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act through 2019. The program would receive $45 million, the same amount as in FY2016. Charter school programs would increase by $9 million, or 3%, to a total of $342 million.
- Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants. The agreement would fund these programs at $9.3 billion (+$85 million from FY2016) and $2.9 billion (+$95 million), respectively.
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The bill would increase funding by 2% or $25 million to $1.2 billion. President Trump’s FY2018 budget proposal would eliminate this program.
- Education for Homeless Children and Youth. The bill would increase funding by 10% (+$7 million, or $77 million total).
- Promise Neighborhoods. The bill would flat-fund the program at $73.2 million. It includes new language “supporting the extension of current high-quality Promise Neighborhood programs.” (This program supports neighborhood-based programs designed to combat the effects of poverty and to improve education and outcomes for children and youth.)
- Federal TRIO, GEAR UP, and Impact Aid Programs. Funding for these programs will increase by $50 million, $17 million, and $23 million (a total of $1.3 billion for Impact Aid, up 2%), respectively.
- Indian Education Funding. The bill would increase funding by 15% or $21 million, to a total of $165 million.
- Research Institutions. The National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities would each receive funding boosts by $2 billion, $8.7 million, $2 million, and $2 million, respectively, from FY2016. However, the Institute of Education Sciences would be cut by $12.7 million.
Although not in the L-HHS-ED section of the FY2017 bill, these spending provisions would still affect some school districts:
- School Nutrition Programs. There is a provision prohibiting processed poultry from China from being used in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meal programs. There are also provisions continuing to allow waivers for school districts to comply with sodium/whole grain requirements in school lunches, and providing for waivers for low-fat flavored milk.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill would fund FEMA at $11.6 billion, including $6.7 billion for major disasters under the Budget Control Act cap adjustment, which is $132 million more than the funding in FY2016. The FEMA Federal Assistance program would receive $2.98 billion, which is $14 million below what it received in FY2016.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA will maintain much of its funding compared to the President’s budget request for FY2017, but would still see a funding cut of $81 million below the FY2016 funding level. Programs that will be flat-funded from FY2016 include $1.394 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and $863 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Flint, Michigan, will receive $100 million to upgrade its drinking water infrastructure; $30 million is available through the WIFIA program for low-interest loans.
What’s next? POLITICO says the bill “contains key boosts to defense and domestic programs” that Democrats and Republicans see as “vastly preferable to another stopgap solution.” The funding levels in the bill are a good starting point for school business officials who want to know how much federal funding will be available for programs that their district relies on. While many programs have received modest increases or flat funding, states will likely have to find other revenue sources as they roll out ESSA to make up for low federal funding in SY2017–2018.