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Ed Money Watch

A Blog from New America's Federal Education Budget Project

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A Closer Look at the House's Education Earmarks

Published:  July 22, 2010

Earlier this week, Ed Money Watch provided details on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee bill for fiscal year 2011. In total, the subcommittee provided $72.0 billion for Department of Education discretionary spending. But the subcommittee also released another document detailing an entirely different kind of discretionary spending – Congressional earmarks.

Earmarks are funds Congress provides to projects and programs under a budget account that do not require a formula-based or competitive allocation process. Essentially, this means that members of Congress can direct specific funds provided under certain programs to projects of their liking, most often within their Congressional district. Earmarks are sometimes referred to as “Congressionally Directed Spending Items,” but many stakeholders call them “pork barrel spending.”

This year, Congress included $355.9 million in earmarks in the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill split among several different accounts, less than one-half of one percent of the total Department of Education funding. This includes $95.5 million in “Presidentially Directed Spending Items.” Earmarks range anywhere from $70,000 (for the Eastmont Community Center in Los Angeles, CA) to $33.3 million (for Alaska Native Educational Equity) but the majority of earmarks goes to local programs ranging between $200,000 and $700,000.

The majority of individual earmarks are made under two programs, the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE) and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). There is a reason for this. These two programs are so broadly defined in their scope and mission that nearly any program a Member of Congress could think up can fit under them. In other words, they have become earmark slush funds.

For 2011, the House subcommittee provided $27.6 million in FIE earmarks and $30.4 million in FIPSE earmarks. For example, Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-CT) requested $325,000 for the Connecticut Technical High School System in Ansonia, CT under FIE. Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC) requested a $250,000 earmark under FIPSE for Trident Technical College in North Charleston, SC.

Admittedly, the House has shown some restraint in the earmark process so far this year. For fiscal year 2010, the House passed version of the Labor-HHS-Education bill included $77.6 million in earmarks for FIE, $50 million more than this year, and $132.9 million for FIPSE, $102.5 million more than this year's subcommittee bill (which hasn't yet been considered by the full house).

A few larger earmarks are made under a few of the Department of Education’s National Projects accounts. These larger earmarks tend to be for existing programs or organizations that typically receive federal support like Teach for America (which was provided a $20.0 million earmark). For example, House members requested $141.6 million in earmarks under the Innovation and Improvement National Projects. This includes $10.6 million for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requested by Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC). Under the School Improvement National Project Account, House members requested $71.6 million in earmarks including $5.0 million for New Leaders for New Schools requested by George Miller (D-CA).

In all, earmarks account for less than one-half of one percent of the Department of Education’s fiscal year 2011 discretionary budget under the subcommittee’s bill. But they do represent some of the most targeted spending that will occur in the annual budget process. Moreover, they are never subjected to the type of performance reviews that other federal programs would be and they help to fuel lobbying on Capitol Hill. Check back with Ed Money Watch as we keep a close eye on the earmarks as the budget process continues.

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