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As House Takes Up Education Funding Bill, Lawmakers Offer Bevy of Amendments, From Autism to Desegregation

By Carolyn Phenicie | September 5, 2017

Updated, Sept. 6

The House Rules Committee Wednesday evening was still meeting to decide which education-related amendments it will make in order to the pending appropriations bill as action progressed in the Senate and at the White House.

In the Senate, an Appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that would give $68.3 billion to the Education Department, including maintaining current funding for Title II teacher-training grants and 21st Century Learning Centers, which provide after-school programs. The Trump administration sought to eliminate both programs.

The Senate’s bill would provide $367 million for the federal charter school program, a $25 million increase, but slightly less than the House’s proposal and far below the Trump administration’s $500 million request. It, like the House bill, doesn’t contain any of the private choice programs the Trump administration proposed.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the measure Thursday morning.

The White House and congressional Democrats also announced a deal to keep the government open at current levels through mid-December while also raising the debt limit.

The full House this week will consider an Education Department funding bill, the first time members have done so in eight years.

Funding the government, which expires Sept. 30, is the first of many must-do tasks for Congress this month. Across the Capitol, a Senate appropriations subcommittee is set to take up that chamber’s bill Wednesday morning, with the full committee considering it Thursday.

(The 74: Congress Returns to a Lengthy Education To-Do List, From Implementing ESSA to Rewriting the Higher Education Act)

Members will begin considering the bill Wednesday, but first the House Rules Committee must set the parameters for debate. Not all, or even most, of the amendments offered will make it to consideration by the full House later this week; this story will be updated after the Rules Committee’s Wednesday afternoon meeting.

Overall, the legislation, which is part of a massive eight-bill package funding huge swaths of the federal government, would provide $65.8 billion to the Education Department. That’s $2.4 billion less than last year, though a significantly smaller cut than the Trump administration requested.

Notably, the bill zeroes out funding for teacher training grants, commonly known as Title II, and makes smaller cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers that provide before- and after-school programs.

(The 74: House Committee Rejects Democrats’ Bid to Restore Education Funding, Protect Teacher Training)

Lawmakers submitted scores of amendments to the bill, including 184 to the section covering the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments. About 40 touch on education in some way, from pre-K through higher education.

Many offered by Democrats seek to add money to education programs that saw cuts or were held flat or saw some increases. That includes returning the funding for Title II grants for teacher training, and adding money to Preschool Development Grants or Title IV grants that fund everything from counseling to technology at the K-12 level.

Chamber rules dictate that increases in funding for one program must be offset by equal cuts to another, and the funds must come from within the same section (so a member couldn’t pay for an increase for preschool with, say, a cut to Amtrak.)

Democrats’ prime targets to fund their proposed increases would be cuts to the Charter School Program (which would get $370 million, a $28 million increase), abstinence-only sex education funding, and the general administrative accounts for the three departments covered in the bill.

Other areas Democrats want to add funding include:

*Desegregation: Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, offered an amendment to strike long-standing language in the bill banning funding for school desegregation efforts.

*Special education: Four proposed amendments would add funding to grants given under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, long a bipartisan funding priority and one of the few education programs that was allotted an increase.

Three amendments would raise the funding by amounts ranging from $7 million to $230 million, offset by cuts to abstinence-only sex ed, the charter school program, and administrative accounts.

The fourth amendment, from Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, Democrat of California, would add $19.3 million to the grants, more than doubling its allocation and bringing it close to the 40 percent share of special ed costs the federal government is supposed to pay to states but never has. His amendment, though, would also immediately rescind the money, a procedural tactic designed to bring attention to the issue without blowing budget caps.

*Higher education: There are five amendments, including one from New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, concerning the Pell Grant program that helps low-income students pay for college.

In other areas of higher ed, two Republicans offered amendments to block the Education Department from enforcing so-called “gainful employment” rules that require for-profit colleges to show their graduates are making sufficient salaries to repay student loans.

*Career and tech ed: Rep. Bill Keating, Democrat of Massachusetts, proposed increasing funding for Perkins CTE programs by $20 million, offset by cutting abstinence-only sex ed and general department management accounts at Health and Human Services.

Not all the amendments, though, would add money.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, Republican of Wisconsin, proposed cutting 2 percent from the department’s inspector general, the financial aid administration office and general department funds. Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney proposed cutting about a third of the budget for education research.

And some Democrats used the bill as a vehicle to promote larger policy issues.

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, for instance, offered an amendment to ban any funding to “establish or direct a commission to investigate the theory that vaccines cause or contribute to the development of autism.”

President Trump has given credence to widely discredited theories linking standard childhood vaccines and autism.

Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, along with Scott, proposed banning federal child care funding to licensure-exempt daycares if a child dies due to child abuse while in the care of that provider.

In several states, including Alabama and Virginia, day cares operated through churches or other religious organizations are exempt from state licensure requirements. A 5-year-old being cared for at a religiously affiliated day care in Mobile, part of Sewell’s district, was found dead in a driveway earlier this summer, after having allegedly been left in a hot van.

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