The spending priorities in the deal are a repudiation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s agenda to reduce the role of the federal government in education. Congress for the third year ignored the secretary’s request to slash billions of dollars from the agency’s budget.
On elementary and secondary programs, Congress again increased spending over the year before, and well above what President Trump and DeVos had requested.
Among the winners: the Title I program, which sends money to schools that have a significant enrollment of children from low-income families. The spending bill increases funding for those schools by $450 million, to a total of $16.3 billion. There’s also a boost for special education funding.
Congress again increased support for Special Olympics, as was predicted during a dust-up this year over Trump’s request to eliminate funding. The president in March proposed erasing federal support of the charity that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to compete in athletics, but he reversed course amid a fusillade of criticism.
A range of other education initiatives also will see increases, such as those supporting social-emotional learning programs. There’s a $550 million increase for child-care grants and $550 million more for Head Start, a preschool program for children from low-income families.
A program that supports charter schools was kept at level funding from this year, $440 million, even as charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately run — have taken a beating among Democratic presidential hopefuls. Some candidates have called for eliminating federal aid for charter schools.
On the higher education front, lawmakers gave a boost to programs the Trump administration has tried to eliminate or scale back in every budget cycle.
The spending package pours an additional $25 million into the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a program for low-income students that the administration has tried to eliminate.
There is also a $5 million increase for campus-based child care, bringing the total funding to $53 million — $38 million above the president’s budget request. Child care is more expensive than in-state tuition at public universities in about 30 states, according to the nonprofit Child Care Aware of America.
Rather than slash more than half of the budget for the college work-study program, as DeVos proposed, Congress will pump $50 million into it.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income students by $150, to $6,345. They simultaneously pulled $500 million out of the program’s reserves, a move that student advocates say threatens the sustainability of Pell.
Separate from the education budget, the spending package includes a provision that would let families with 529 college savings accounts use up to $10,000 to repay education loans. The plan is receiving mixed reviews from higher education experts, some of whom criticize it for disproportionately benefiting high-income families. The 529 is a college savings plan that offers tax and financial aid benefits.
Congressional Democrats have also tucked in language that requires the Education Department to reassign accounts from student loan servicing companies that violate consumer protection laws and their contracts. The provision also prevents the department from awarding new contracts to servicing companies that have a history of skirting consumer laws.
“Secretary DeVos is the rare government leader who continually asks for less while accomplishing more,” Education Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito said. “If there is anything to be learned from the past several decades of American education, it’s that perpetual spending increases haven’t moved the needle on student achievement.”