Education Budget

Key Questions: Education Policy in the President's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget

March 4, 2014
President Barack Obama submitted his fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress on March 4, 2014. The proposal, which includes $1.014 trillion in appropriations spending, slightly exceeds the limit passed earlier this year by Congress and signed into law by the president of $1.012 trillion, with the exception of an Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative fund that would provide additional funding offset by revenue increases or spending cuts.

Our Long National Nightmare…Will Return Shortly

October 17, 2013

This post originally appeared on our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Last night, as the 16th day of the federal government shutdown drew to a close, the House and Senate approved, and President Obama signed into law a budget deal that restored funding for federal agencies and brought the nation back from the brink of a debt default. But celebrations will be short-lived. The temporary spending bill will expire again on January 15, and the increased debt ceiling will run out again on February 7 – evidence that the last month of congressional debate had virtually no long-term implications.

The shutdown began just over two weeks ago, with House Republicans insisting on defunding or at least delaying a portion of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law President Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. But Senate leadership and President Obama remained dead-set against the changes. (Only one, relatively minor change to “Obamacare” was made in this latest deal, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to verify the incomes of those applying for tax credits or cost reductions under the law.) So instead, the debate morphed into one over a more workable issue: spending levels.

Our Long National Nightmare…Will Return Shortly

October 17, 2013

This post also appeared on our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

Last night, as the 16th day of the federal government shutdown drew to a close, the House and Senate approved, and President Obama signed into law a budget deal that restored funding for federal agencies and brought the nation back from the brink of a debt default. But celebrations will be short-lived. The temporary spending bill will expire again on January 15, and the increased debt ceiling will run out again on February 7 – evidence that the last month of congressional debate had virtually no long-term implications.

The shutdown began just over two weeks ago, with House Republicans insisting on defunding or at least delaying a portion of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law President Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. But Senate leadership and President Obama remained dead-set against the changes. (Only one, relatively minor change to “Obamacare” was made in this latest deal, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to verify the incomes of those applying for tax credits or cost reductions under the law.) So instead, the debate morphed into one over a more workable issue: spending levels.

Under a law passed by Congress in 2011, known as the Budget Control Act (BCA), lawmakers established a congressional “supercommittee” to create a framework for $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. When they failed to do so, the law reverted to Plan B: spending limits for fiscal years 2012 through 2022. Mid-2013, the White House was required to sequester a portion of that year’s spending with across-the-board spending cuts, but an eleventh-hour deal in Congress (the American Taxpayer Relief Act) meant that a portion of the cuts were pushed off to fiscal year 2014 instead. This year, then, the spending cap drops by another $18 billion.

That is a key point that has been lost in the debate: The “second sequester” was not part of the original Budget Control Act as passed in 2011. It came later, through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013 (the law that extended most of the Bush-era tax policies), which Congress passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in January 2013.

The trouble is, the spending bill passed last night, like both the House and Senate proposals that came out ahead of the shutdown, continues funding the government at 2013 post-sequester levels (about $985 billion this year, instead of $967 billion as required under the BCA as modified in early 2013). That means another sequester will hit federal programs on January 15 – the same date that funding expires under this plan.

That’s no accident. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to push the deadline for the continuing resolution up against the deadline for sequestration to force the issue further. He hopes to use the next debate over funding the government in just a few short months to press Republicans to provide federal agencies with flexibility to implement the sequester, rather than to apply it evenly to all programs, or even to cancel the sequester entirely. (The proposal to give agencies flexibility was discussed during these budget negotiations, but was ultimately left out of the final bill.)

And Senate Democrats effectively queued up this situation when they passed their budget earlier this year, ignoring sequestration and setting spending at $1.058 trillion instead of at the House Republicans’ approved (and the Budget Control Act’s mandated) $967 billion. (President Obama followed suit, with his budget clocking in at $1.057 trillion.)

Republicans, meanwhile, have little incentive to alter sequestration – and got cold feet when it came time to actually draft an education spending bill that meet the new spending caps. Efforts earlier this year to bolster funding for the Department of Defense by reducing substantial amounts of funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education failed because of internal dissent among House Republicans about the size of the reduction. But spending cuts remain a major priority of most GOP lawmakers, and the political will doesn’t yet exist—among Republicans or some Democrats—to cancel sequestration.

Another provision of last night’s agreement, though, would attempt to end such “governing by crisis” in favor of a return to regular order in Congress. A bicameral, bipartisan budget conference committee will begin meeting soon to attempt to reach an agreement on government funding – undoubtedly, with a focus on altering or eliminating sequestration in favor of more targeted cuts.

Sound familiar? That’s because the supercommittee whose failure spurred the implementation of sequestration in the first place was tasked with a similar goal of reaching a broad deal on budget policy. Some of the committee’s appointees – Rep. Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) – even served as supercommittee members a few years ago.

It seems unlikely that enough has changed politically to spark much agreement. And if that’s the case, we’ll be right back in the same place, facing a potential government shutdown (and soon after, another possible government default), by mid-January. 

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
Publication Image

The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Higher Ed Watch’s sister initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The higher education data cover more than 7,500 institutions and all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and include:

  • Tuition and fees, price, endowment, and net price for all and for low-income students;
  • Federal finance data on student loan recipients and disbursements for schools, as well as Pell Grant and other federal aid data;
  • Student demographics, including full-time, part-time, and graduate student enrollment, as well as racial subgroups;
  • Outcomes as defined by graduation rates, retention rates, student loan default rates, and repayment rates; and
  • The share of students receiving federal, state, and local financial aid, as well as the average award size.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
Publication Image

The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Early Ed Watch’s sister initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The PreK-12 data for more than 13,700 school districts and every state include:

  • Federal funding information, like per pupil expenditures, Title I and IDEA allocations, and school lunch awards;
  • Pre-K information for state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and special education preschool grants;
  • Demographic information on enrollment and racial, economic, and academic subgroups; and
  • Achievement data for math and reading in 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school, both for state standardized tests and the NAEP exam.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
Publication Image

The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The PreK-12 data for more than 13,700 school districts and every state include:

  • Federal funding information, like per pupil expenditures, Title I and IDEA allocations, and school lunch awards;
  • Pre-K information for state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and special education preschool grants;
  • Demographic information on enrollment and racial, economic, and academic subgroups; and
  • Achievement data for math and reading in 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school, both for state standardized tests and the NAEP exam.

The higher education data cover more than 7,500 institutions and all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and include:

  • Tuition and fees, price, endowment, and net price for all and for low-income students;
  • Federal finance data on student loan recipients and disbursements for schools, as well as Pell Grant and other federal aid data;
  • Student demographics, including full-time, part-time, and graduate student enrollment, as well as racial subgroups;
  • Outcomes as defined by graduation rates, retention rates, student loan default rates, and repayment rates; and
  • The share of students receiving federal, state, and local financial aid, as well as the average award size.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Tensions on Capitol Hill Driven by Spending Limits

October 14, 2013

Two weeks into a government shutdown, and only a few short days from reaching the federal debt ceiling, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House have gone nowhere. But the debate is not primarily about defunding or delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) anymore. In fact, Democrats seem to have co-opted the fight so they can argue against their greatest nemesis of late: sequestration.

With negotiations in the House of Representatives stalled, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell entered the arena last week to work out a deal. But though the negotiations are allegedly more productive in the Senate than the House, reports suggest they hit a roadblock this week over the spending level at which the government would be funded when it reopens. Democrats are insisting on higher spending levels, even as Senate Republicans have dropped most of their other demands. Meanwhile, Republicans would like to maintain the spending levels set after sequestration last year. (In the interest of full disclosure, Reid has denied that he wants to increase spending levels in this bill. Other Democratic leaders apparently disagree.)

First, some background. (You can find this information and many other details in a New America Foundation issue brief published in April, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis.)

Sequestration, as we’ve written before, was the result of a 2011 law, the Budget Control Act (BCA). The BCA required a congressional “supercommittee” to hunt down and pass through Congress $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

When the supercommittee inevitably failed, though, there was a failsafe in place. $1.2 trillion of that deficit reduction would be guaranteed through spending caps – and to a lesser extent, reductions in non-appropriations, or “mandatory” funding – enforced by sequestration. In fiscal year 2013, discretionary spending was cut midyear from $1.043 trillion overall to $984 billion through a sequester, which amounted to a 5.0 percent cut for most domestic programs, including most federal education programs. And, in fact, the cut should have been deeper (about 8.2 percent), but Congress (Democrats and Republicans) reached a last-minute agreement to push off some of the cuts to the following year. That means in fiscal year 2014, the spending limits is now $966 billion, lower than in 2013, but has not yet been enforced by sequestration.

However, throughout the start of the fiscal year 2014 budget process, the Senate has ignored that spending limit, despite voting for it in early January, arguing that enough deficit reduction has occurred and the harm to key federal programs does not justify the further costs. Instead, the Senate Democrats’ budget appropriated spending at the pre-sequester $1.058 trillion level, and the White House acted similarly to appropriate at $1.057 trillion in its fiscal year 2014 budget.

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So what does this all mean for the ongoing shutdown/debt ceiling negotiations?  Well, just as House Speaker John Boehner attempted to make Obamacare his last stand, Senator Reid has apparently made the higher, $1.058 trillion spending limit his last stand.

Both the House Republican and Senate Democratic temporary spending bills, as they were first introduced, continued appropriations at the fiscal year 2013 post-sequester level of about $986 billion. That funding level, however, exceeds the cap in place for 2014 and would trigger a second sequester in 2014, and neither the House or Senate bill included a provision to turn that off, ensuring that the further $18 billion in cuts owed to the Budget Control Act would come automatically in early 2014.

So it’s odd for Senator Reid to now insist on a higher spending level that restores all sequestration cuts – especially given that he didn’t insist on that when the Senate voted to lower the 2014 spending capin early 2013, or when he penned his own continuing appropriations bill a few weeks ago. In effect, this weekend he came out against his own temporary spending bill of a few weeks ago and a “bipartisan compromise” bill that his chamber passed that further reduced spending caps in 2014.

This is all another sign of the tensions in Washington that make any deal difficult. We’ve been writing for months that House Republicans and Senate Democrats are so far apart on spending limits, opportunities for compromise seemed virtually nonexistent. And indeed, those differences in top-level spending amounts have come back to haunt members of Congress in the current debate. Meanwhile, about 500,000 federal employees remain furloughed, along with thousands of contractors; schools and students remain uncertain about their status; Head Start programs are struggling to remain open; federal loans are frozen; and federally funded museums, monuments, and parks are closed. 

Government Shutdown Strands Departments of Education, HHS with Few Staff, No Money

October 1, 2013

This post first appeared on our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Congress spent the final moments of fiscal year 2013 last night in the throes of a debate over funding the government. Unable to reach agreement despite days of back-and-forth between the House and Senate, however, the government officially shut down at midnight on September 30.

Federal agencies were ordered just before midnight to begin implementing plans for a federal shutdown absent funding for fiscal year 2014, which began on October 1. Skeleton crews will remain in place at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) for the length of the shutdown, but most employees will be furloughed.

The first few days of the shutdown likely won’t be very severe. Education programs funded with mandatory spending—including Pell Grants and federal student loans—will continue to operate as normal. And most of the big K-12 programs, namely Title I grants to low-income students and IDEA special education grants to states, have already seen a substantial portion of their funding disbursed. Those and other programs that have already been awarded will be okay in the short term.

Some other programs won’t be so lucky. About 20 Head Start programs, enrolling nearly 19,000 children, have grants that expire on October 1 and won’t receive new funding to continue operating until the shutdown is resolved. Other federal programs, including work-study aid for college students, will also be delayed.

If the shutdown wears on, though, it could start to impact school districts, institutions of higher education, and postsecondary students more severely. Some staffers for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will return to the agencies to ensure operations function as normally as possible. But with no funding appropriated yet for fiscal year 2014, school districts and students are sure to pay the cost.

The dispute that led to the first federal shutdown in 17 years centered around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law passed in 2010 for which some provisions also went into effect on October 1. Some Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives insisted on defunding and/or delaying for one year the law’s implementation, while Democrats in Congress, as well as President Obama, demanded a clean funding bill with no alterations to the healthcare law.

The debate over the Affordable Care Act is masking another divide in Congress that needs to be resolved before an annual appropriations bill is finalized, though: how and whether to fund domestic programs within a shrunken budget.

The 2011 Budget Control Act sets an overall limit on funding for domestic programs, and to avoid finding the required spending cuts in fiscal year 2013, Congress and the president enacted a law in late 2012 to reduce the 2014 levels further. That means this year, lawmakers will have to find another $18 billion in cuts to fiscal year 2014 appropriations to avert mandatory and automatic across-the-board sequesters applied to most federal programs.

But Senate Democrats have said they won’t support a bill within those limits, and House Republicans now have cold feet having realized they’d have to cut a big chunk of domestic funding back to fiscal year 2002 levels. So neither the House nor Senate has voted to approve its own spending bill for the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education. Assuming lawmakers don’t manage to find the cuts themselves, many federal programs, including most education ones, will be sequestered again. The continuing resolutions debated over the past week have appropriated well above the 2014 rate, at prior-year levels. That means lawmakers have likely set up federal programs for another round of blunt cuts down the line.

All in all, the shutdown leaves policymakers in D.C. and recipients of federal dollars around the country with a great deal of uncertainty. Congress could choose to end this shutdown quickly, before many serious side-effects occur. Or the shutdown could drag on, with neither side willing to cave. There could even be a short-term temporary funding bill—as short as one week, some lawmakers have argued—that would precipitate another round of the same debates almost immediately.

Finally, in just a few weeks, on October 17, the U.S. is projected to reach the nation’s debt ceiling. A bill to raise the debt ceiling could be seen as a prime legislative vehicle to pass a 2014 spending bill – but some members of Congress are considering yet another showdown when the debt ceiling debate rolls around.

Check back with Ed Money Watch and Higher Ed Watch over the coming weeks for more details, and for information on the 2013 and 2014 appropriations process, we’ve got the details in our April 2013 issue brief, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis.

Government Shutdown Strands Departments of Education, HHS with Few Staff, No Money

October 1, 2013

This post first appeared on our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Congress spent the final moments of fiscal year 2013 last night in the throes of a debate over funding the government. Unable to reach agreement despite days of back-and-forth between the House and Senate, however, the government officially shut down at midnight on September 30.

Federal agencies were ordered just before midnight to begin implementing plans for a federal shutdown absent funding for fiscal year 2014, which began on October 1. Skeleton crews will remain in place at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) for the length of the shutdown, but most employees will be furloughed.

Government Shutdown Strands Departments of Education, HHS with Few Staff, No Money

October 1, 2013

This post also appeared on our sister blogs, Early Ed Watch and Higher Ed Watch.

Congress spent the final moments of fiscal year 2013 last night in the throes of a debate over funding the government. Unable to reach agreement despite days of back-and-forth between the House and Senate, however, the government officially shut down at midnight on September 30.

Federal agencies were ordered just before midnight to begin implementing plans for a federal shutdown absent funding for fiscal year 2014, which began on October 1. Skeleton crews will remain in place at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) for the length of the shutdown, but most employees will be furloughed.

The first few days of the shutdown likely won’t be very severe. Education programs funded with mandatory spending—including Pell Grants and federal student loans—will continue to operate as normal. And most of the big K-12 programs, namely Title I grants to low-income students and IDEA special education grants to states, have already seen a substantial portion of their funding disbursed. Those and other programs that have already been awarded will be okay in the short term.

Some other programs won’t be so lucky. About 20 Head Start programs, enrolling nearly 19,000 children, have grants that expire on October 1 and won’t receive new funding to continue operating until the shutdown is resolved. Other federal programs, including work-study aid for college students, will also be delayed.

If the shutdown wears on, though, it could start to impact school districts, institutions of higher education, and postsecondary students more severely. Some staffers for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will return to the agencies to ensure operations function as normally as possible. But with no funding appropriated yet for fiscal year 2014, school districts and students are sure to pay the cost.

The dispute that led to the first federal shutdown in 17 years centered around the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law passed in 2010 for which some provisions also went into effect on October 1. Some Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives insisted on defunding and/or delaying for one year the law’s implementation, while Democrats in Congress, as well as President Obama, demanded a clean funding bill with no alterations to the healthcare law.

The debate over the Affordable Care Act is masking another divide in Congress that needs to be resolved before an annual appropriations bill is finalized, though: how and whether to fund domestic programs within a shrunken budget.

The 2011 Budget Control Act sets an overall limit on funding for domestic programs, and to avoid finding the required spending cuts in fiscal year 2013, Congress and the president enacted a law in late 2012 to reduce the 2014 levels further. That means this year, lawmakers will have to find another $18 billion in cuts to fiscal year 2014 appropriations to avert mandatory and automatic across-the-board sequesters applied to most federal programs.

But Senate Democrats have said they won’t support a bill within those limits, and House Republicans now have cold feet having realized they’d have to cut a big chunk of domestic funding back to fiscal year 2002 levels. So neither the House nor Senate has voted to approve its own spending bill for the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education. Assuming lawmakers don’t manage to find the cuts themselves, many federal programs, including most education ones, will be sequestered again. The continuing resolutions debated over the past week have appropriated well above the 2014 rate, at prior-year levels. That means lawmakers have likely set up federal programs for another round of blunt cuts down the line.

All in all, the shutdown leaves policymakers in D.C. and recipients of federal dollars around the country with a great deal of uncertainty. Congress could choose to end this shutdown quickly, before many serious side-effects occur. Or the shutdown could drag on, with neither side willing to cave. There could even be a short-term temporary funding bill—as short as one week, some lawmakers have argued—that would precipitate another round of the same debates almost immediately.

Finally, in just a few weeks, on October 17, the U.S. is projected to reach the nation’s debt ceiling. A bill to raise the debt ceiling could be seen as a prime legislative vehicle to pass a 2014 spending bill – but some members of Congress are considering yet another showdown when the debt ceiling debate rolls around.

Check back with Ed Money Watch over the coming weeks for more details, and for information on the 2013 and 2014 appropriations process, we’ve got the details in our April 2013 issue brief, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis.

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