Last Friday, Congress passed a new Continuing Resolution to temporarily fund fiscal year 2012 appropriations through December 16, 2011. Fiscal year 2012 began on October 1st, 2011 but Congress has not yet finalized funding for the U.S. Department of Education. This is the third Continuing Resolution (CR) Congress has passed so far. It was added to the 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, also known as the “mini-bus,” which made several funding and legislative changes to programs overseen by those agencies. Outside of those specific changes, however, the CR makes no additional changes to appropriations for other agencies (including the Department of Education) and leaves in place those passed in previous 2012 CRs.
Most notably, the first CR, which extended 2011 appropriations into fiscal year 2012 through October 4th, 2011, reduced the rate of federal appropriations spending by 1.503 percent. At the same time, it made no direct changes to education spending, meaning that all existing programs would continue to receive funding, including those that have been slated for elimination in previous draft appropriations bills. However, the Department of Education tends to spend its funds months after they are appropriated due to the nature of the school calendar, making the temporary funding provided through a CR almost meaningless.
That said, the 1.503 percent across-the-board-cut indirectly reduced Title I funds appropriated in fiscal year 2011 as advance appropriations (which are technically 2012 appropriations provided a year early), meaning that school districts across the country will see cuts to their Title I allocations unless Congress changes the CR language or finalizes a Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill. See this Ed Money Watch post for a more in-depth explanation of this issue.
So when and how will Congress finalize fiscal year 2012 appropriations for education programs?
At this point, it’s hard to say. Both the Senate and the House have taken limited action on bills to fund education programs, but only the Senate has passed its out of committee. These two bills will likely form the foundation for a final year-end funding bill that wraps education programs in with many other agencies.
Both the House and Senate proposals make some dramatic changes to education funding, either eliminating programs entirely or cutting funding. In a surprise turn, the House draft bill includes significant increases in funding for both Title I grants for disadvantaged students and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act special education grants, but reduces overall funding for the Department of Education. See the table below for a side by side comparison of the bills.
Finally, both bills include significant eligibility changes to the Pell Grant Program. See this blog post to learn more about those changes.
Clearly the fiscal year 2012 appropriations process is far from over. If Congress is not able to find consensus on a final funding bill by December 18th when the latest CR expires, it is likely to pass another and try to finalize the bills by Christmas Eve.
Check back with Ed Money Watch as this process continues.