Sequestration Rollback? Federal Funding Bill Gains Traction
A new federal spending bill was introduced by Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle, and it would provide $1 billion in new money for Head Start programs and restore much of the forced budget cuts of last year’s sequestration.
The bill also provides money for higher education, including student aid and grants through the National Institutes of Health. The latter is of key importance to major research universities — some of which had to put projects and studies on hold as a result of the sequester. (For more on how sequestration unfolded, check out my prior posts here and here.)
The Association of American Universities gave a mixed review to the spending bill, according to Inside Higher Ed:
“Some agencies fared rather well, while some did poorly,” the AAU statement said. “We appreciate efforts to ameliorate sequestration, but even a partial sequester makes it impossible for Congress to take any serious steps to close the nation’s innovation deficit.”
It’s worth reading Alyson Klein’s take on the bill over at Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog. Klein notes that the proposed changes to the School Improvement Grant program represent a significant shift in philosophy when it come to campus improvement. Schools would have new options for spending federal dollars on improvement plans, and would no longer be constrained to four pre-approved blueprints, which included shutting down a school outright and starting from scratch (the least-used of the options) replacing the principal and key staff, or turning over the campus to a private operator. From Klein’s reporting:
“The new SIG language in the spending bill didn’t come out of thin air—it closely mirrors the SIG provisions in a bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was approved by Senate education committee last June. But it’s a blow to the Obama administration, which had stood stubbornly behind its four models, even as student outcome data from the SIG program showed it had a mixed track record.”
SIG has been an uneven experiment from the outset. Some states and districts balked at being told to take what many considered extreme measures in the name of school improvement. Might greater flexibility make a difference in outcomes? To be sure, the architects of the new spending bill believe it’s time to find out.