Myrna, Mandlawitz, LDA Policy Director
Myrna, Mandlawitz, LDA Policy Director

On March 4, the Administration released the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015; School Year 2015-16), with an interesting twist for IDEA funding.  Rather than provide an increase for IDEA-Part B State Grants, the Administration has requested an additional $100 million for Results Driven Accountability (RDA) Incentive grants to support the work of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in moving special education from a compliance-based to a results-driven system. This money would fund competitive grants to States to implement State Systemic Implementation Plans focused on improving results for students with disabilities.  As stated in the Department of Education’s FY 2015 budget document: “These incentive grants would be used by States to identify and implement promising, evidence-based reforms that would improve service delivery for children with disabilities while building State and local capacity to improve long-term outcomes for those children.”

The president’s request freezes Part B funding, with the estimated federal share per child remaining at $1,758.  In addition, the budget proposal once again freezes funding for the Preschool Grant program, which has not seen an increase in a number of years.  Part C Grants for Infants and Families would receive a small bump of 0.76 percent, and Part D national activities would be maintained at the FY 2014 level.

Overall the Department of Education would receive one of the largest increases of any federal agency, with an additional $1.3 billion or 1.9 percent over the FY 2014 level.  However, a large portion of that increase would go to new initiatives, in addition to the special education grant mentioned above, rather than to the large formula grant programs like Title I and Career and Technical Education.

One of the biggest winners would be early childhood education, with a proposed record investment in universal access to preschool for low- and middle-income four-year-olds and incentives for States to serve more middle class families, as well.  The president proposes $75 billion in mandatory funds for the Preschool for All program over ten years ($1.3 billion for FY 2015) and $500 million for competitive Preschool Development Grants to help States build or expand existing preschool programs.

The budget proposal includes a new Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity) competition focused on improving academic results for the highest poverty schools.  Grants would support developing and implementing systems that integrate data on school finances, human resources, and academic achievement; and, developing, attracting, and retaining effective teachers and leaders in high poverty schools.  Funds could also be used for evidence-based practices that mitigate the effects of poverty, such as improving school climate.

It is important to note the president’s budget is just the first step in a long process of determining which federal programs are funded and at what levels.  Congress can take some, all, or none of the president’s proposed budget. Since the bipartisan budget deal signed into law in January set the top line amount the appropriations committees have to spend, the usual next step by the House and Senate of developing their own budgets is unnecessary this year.  In fact, the next step most likely will be for the House and Senate Appropriations leadership to determine the allocations for each of the 12 appropriations committees, after which those subcommittees will develop their specific funding bills.

LDA follows the work of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education subcommittee, which, in addition to education, has jurisdiction over some very controversial programs such as the Affordable Care Act.  Therefore, it is likely that the Labor-HHS-Education bill will be among the last to be debated.  Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) have both expressed the desire to make every attempt to complete the appropriations process by September 30, 2014, the end of the current fiscal year, to avoid the need to pass a Continuing Resolution. â— 

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