Congress has approved a $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill providing significant relief for education programs hit hard by sequestration cuts. Politico reports that the bill awards education programs a total of $67 billion, which is only slightly less than the $71.2 billion President Obama proposed in his 2014 budget. The president is expected to sign the bill, according to the LA Times.
The new bill will provide monies for educational programs believed to be critical, including $1 billion for the keystone early childhood program Head Start, according to PBS NewsHour. Politico found that $1 million is allocated for a report on how colleges are affected by regulations and reporting requirements.
The appropriations bill follows the biggest reductions in K-12 funding in history. Education Week reports that Education spending in K-12 schools was down $1.7 billion during the 2013-2014 school year. According to survey data, the sequestration forced districts to eliminate staff and freeze salaries, boost class sizes, scale back teacher training, downsize academic programs, and delay maintenance projects. The cuts hit schools on military bases and Indian reservations especially hard, as well as special education programs. This funding, channeled through the Impact Aid program, will be restored at $2.4 billion, according to PBS.
While some programs got the congressional go-ahead, the bill does not fully fund other education measures advanced by the Obama administration. Race to the Top, a competitive grant program, will receive just $250 million, down from the $1 billion the president proposed, according to Education Week. Race to the Top provides grants to schools initiating reforms tailored to their local needs, ranging from Common Core development to adding new technology in classrooms. Additionally, the bill does not replace a $506 million sequestration cut from the administration’s high-priority School Improvement Grant program.
Just as the appropriations bill is headed for Pres. Obama’s desk, a new study by Illinois State University reports that state spending on higher education may also be on the mend. While state higher education budgets are up an average of 6 percent from last year, they nevertheless remain 11 percent lower than pre-recession levels, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“A nuanced view of this year’s budgets,” reports Inside Higher Ed, reveals that more than 50 percent of the increase comes from relatively substantial gains in just three large states: California, Florida and Illinois. In contrast, Hawaii increased its spending on higher education by less than 1 percent, and Louisiana is defending itself in court for spending just 65 percent of what it did before the recession. Arizona has also cut funding by nearly one-third, and Gov. Jan Brewer’s FY 2015 budget proposal keeps funding at its current levels, according to Huffington Post.
As states have decreased funding over the last few years, tuition has skyrocketed by more than 70 percent in some states’ four-year public schools, according to the Huffington Post. The Wall Street Journal reports that defaults on student loans have risen for six consecutive years. Student debt is also reaching new heights each year; the Senate Joint Economic Committee found that it nearly doubled between 2007 and 2013 to more than $1 trillion.