Updated, July 20, 2017
The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill late Wednesday on a 28-22 vote.
Members also considered, and rejected, an amendment from California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard that would require the Education Department to continue enforcing Obama-era guidance on how schools and colleges deal with allegations of sexual assaults on campus. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she's weighing changing the rules.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Democrat of Florida, also offered and withdrew an amendment that would block states from dictating how districts use their federal Title I dollars, an effort she tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act.
"We are delivering on the promise of assuring districts they have the room they need to educate, innovate and improve," she said.
Committee Republicans said they're open to the idea behind the amendment, but need more time to research it fully before agreeing to include it in final legislation.
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday rejected efforts by Democrats to restore money for federal teacher training grants and other education programs as members considered a bill that cuts funding for the Education Department overall.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the committee was still working through amendments to the bill, which also covers the Labor and Health and Human Services departments.
The bill would cut the education department’s budget overall by about $2.4 billion, with $2.1 billion of that coming from the teacher assistance grants. Generally, the bill would offer small increases for funding for special needs students while making smaller cuts to Title I grants for low-income students and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that funds after-school programs. The Trump administration had sought to cut $9 billion from the department’s budget by eliminating the teacher grants and after-school program, among others.
North Carolina Democratic Rep. David Price called the teacher training cuts “peculiar and disproportionate” and said the cuts would mean the loss of 8,000 teaching jobs, reduction in professional development, and increases in class sizes.
He offered an amendment to restore funding for those grants, often called Title II.
“I’ve become convinced over the years that none of the education reforms we talk about and want to implement will be worth a thing without a first-rate teaching force,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole, Republican chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over education funding, said the programs have value, but given the total funding the committee was working with, and the desire to increase spending in other areas, tough cuts had to be made.
“If things change, we’re going to revisit a lot of these programs,” he said.
The committee rebuffed preserving the Title II allocation despite a full-court press from advocates
and Democrats in both houses of Congress.
More than 100 House Democrats wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders
, arguing that ending the funding will hurt states’ ability to carry out the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“ESSA implementation is now in full swing, but implementing ESSA without adequate federal funding threatens the civil rights legacy of the law, undermines the intent of Congress, and jeopardizes the ability of states, territories, and school districts to deliver on the promise of an excellent education for more than 50 million students,” they wrote.
Separately, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer and other congressional Democrats rallied with members of the American Federation of Teachers to protest the budget cuts and failed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Democrats also weren’t successful in increasing funding for education programs both large, like the Pell Grants that help low-income students pay for college, and small, like arts education.
Rep. Betty McCollum, Democrat of Minnesota, proposed returning the $27 million in arts education that had been cut by taking some of the additional $28 million given to the federal charter school program.
Cole said he supports arts education, but increasing funding for charter schools has been a big priority for the committee for the past two years.
Greater funding is also a Trump administration goal, he said, noting the president asked for $500 million for charter schools. The committee instead funded the program at $370 million. It ignored Trump’s request for $1 billion in new public school choice dollars through Title I and a $250 million pilot program for private school vouchers.
“I do want to continue this progress on charter schools,” Cole said. “It’s a major administration initiative, one that we did not give them nearly as much money as they would like. I’m not anxious to cut that back to the status quo.”
The arts funding amendment was rejected by a voice vote.
Bipartisan agreement on need for early childhood, TRIO
There were smaller areas of bipartisan agreement, on early childhood programs and the federal TRIO programs that help first-generation and learning-disabled college students.
On early childhood, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark offered an amendment to increase funding for four federal child care and preschool programs.
“Investing in children between the ages of 0 and 5 is one of the best investments of scarce public resources that we can make,” Clark said.
The amendment would increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families pay for day care; the Head Start preschool program for low-income and homeless children; and Preschool Development Grants that help expand state-run pre-K programs. It also would return about $15 million for a grant that funds child care for college students, which House appropriators eliminated.
Though lawmakers did include increases for CCDBG and Head Start, both programs are subject to new, more expensive standards, so funds beyond that boost are needed, Clark said.
Cole said early childhood programs have been one of his top priorities for increased funding in the labor, health, and education programs under his subcommittee’s purview.
“Heaven knows there are many areas where as Democrats and Republicans we disagree … I’m very pleased for those areas where we have been able to find common ground, and this is one of them,” he said.
Despite his support, and his desire to “do more” on Head Start, Cole said he couldn’t back Clark’s amendment because it would increase spending past a cap set for the bill. He committed to working with Clark going forward, though, to try and find more early childhood funding.
Members also agreed to work on an issue surrounding grant applications for TRIO programs. Many colleges had their applications denied for small technical issues, members of both parties have said in several hearings over the past few months.
Rep. José Serrano, Democrat of New York, offered an amendment that would ask department officials to re-review applications from programs that had long been funded but were recently rejected.
“These were schools that were turned down because their application had too many pages, their application had the wrong font size, their applications were not formatted properly … Great programs are going down the drain,” he said.
Serrano said the legislative text of his amendment had been cleared by Republican and Democratic committee staff and by Education Department officials. Republicans backed the effort, but Cole said he’d like more time to make sure there were no unintended consequences, like reducing funding for other programs after the second review.
Cole committed to address the issue going forward, so Serrano withdrew his amendment.
Senate Appropriations has yet to announce when it will consider its version of the Education Department spending bill.