Last Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that would provide the U.S. Department of Education with an overall budget of $67.8 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, a $220 million decrease from FY2016. The FY 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill was passed with a bipartisan vote of 29-1.
This most recent education spending bill would provide a welcome $40 million increase in grants to special education, bringing the budget up to nearly $12 billion, as well as a $500 million boost, for a total of $15.4 billion, for Title I grants for school improvement to local school districts that are currently serving disadvantaged students. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, also highlighted a restoration of year-round Pell Grants, expanding eligibility for an estimated 1 million college students.
However, many education advocates and a number of lawmakers were disappointed in the funding levels allocated for The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) program, a new block grant program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).The SSAEG fund was created to help school districts cover the cost of student health, counseling, safety, arts and STEM education, and especially technology education.
Under the newly passed bill, the newly constructed SSAEG program would receive about $300 million, a little more than half of the $500 million the Obama Administration asked for, and over $1 billion short of what the ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), had authorized in its proposed spending budget. Granted, the programs are now receiving $270 million, so the bill did provide a small increase to the SSAEG budget.
Many education advocates and some of our own private tutors are concerned with the $300 million allocation for SSAEG, stating that spread across the entire country the slightly increased budget may not do much for most districts. Additionally, with this being an election year, the timing is especially important for Congress to build a strong foundation to build upon, which many feel was not the case. Even further, under this new spending bill state grants for teacher quality programs would also be cut by about $200 million, and after school programs would be cut by about $100 million.
Senator Patty Murray, a top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee, stated that while she supports the bill overall, she was also disappointed that it didn’t provide more improvements for Title I and the block grant. However, Senator Murray and our private tutors maintain hope that those programs may see funding increases in the future. “We were working under tight budget caps,” she stated, but expressed hopes that Republicans and Democrats can work together to “restore additional investments in defense and non-defense priorities, which would allow us to improve this bill with additional resources for education and other priorities.”
At this point, the next steps for the bill are unclear. FY 2017 begins October 1, and with the upcoming election it’s impossible to determine how long it would take for Congress to pass a final spending bill. With all the uncertainty surrounding the newly approved spending bill, there is still potential room for growth in budget allocation for the SSAEG program, which could carry with it a positive impact for millions of students across the country.
As a private tutoring service employing California credentialed teachers, our top priority is always providing our students with the individualized support that they need to become lifelong learners, despite any obstacles they may face during the regular school day. Contact us today to discover how we can help your student achieve academic success!