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Obama’s Race to the Top loses all funding in 2015 omnibus spending bill

File: President Obama shakes hands with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama and firstlLady Michelle Obama both would see key initiatives whacked if the $1.01 trillion spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders this week passes without changes in these areas: the president’s chief education initiative, Race to the Top, loses all funding, and the first lady’s effort to nutritionally improve school lunches takes a hit with language that allows schools to take their good old time about meeting a mandate on serving whole grain.

The Education Department would take a slight hit in funding; at $70.5 billion, down $133 million below the fiscal year 2014, but special education grants to states would get $25 million more than last year, up to $11.5 billion. Funding for the somewhat controversial School Improvement Grant program is maintained at $506 million. (It’s somewhat controversial because there are big questions about its overall effectiveness.)

The $4.3 billion-dollar Race to the Top was Obama’s main education initiative, first announced in 2009 as an effort to ensure that every student was “college and career ready” and to achieve “educational equity” by aggressively  “turning around” the lowest-performing schools (or by closing them if they didn’t turn around fast enough.) The program was a competition among states for federal funding, with certain stipulations; states (and later districts) had to promise to implement specific school reforms favored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in order to win the cash. The Gates Foundation awarded millions of dollars to states that sought its help in designing their Race to the Top contest entries. The program became controversial as some critics said it represented federal intrusion into local education (though states were not required to participate) and critics wondered how a competition among states  – which would create winners and losers — could create educational equity.

There is also no funding for the controversial Common Core State Standards in this legislation. The development of the standards and their implementation was not federally funded, though the Obama administration did provide $360 million to two multi-state consortia that developed new Core-aligned standardized tests, which are being given to students for the first time this school year. That money had been appropriated in previous years. The administration also linked Race to the Top funding to the adoption of common standards; an early version of the first Race competition used the Common Core standards by name but, as my colleague Lyndsey Layton reported here, that was changed out of fear that “some states would consider that unwanted — and possibly illegal — interference from Washington.”

In fiscal year 2014, Race to the Top was given $250 million, according to this legislation summary, for competitive awards to states to develop or grow early childhood programs for children from low- and moderate-income families.  Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal included $300 million for a proposed “Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.” While Race to the Top gets no funding in the 2015 omnibus bill, the administration’s Preschool Development Grants program gets $250 million for 2015.

The House and Senate congressional summaries of education-related funding in the 2015 omnibus bill highlight different things. The Republican-led House notes that Race to the Top is being eliminated, while the Senate version doesn’t mention it. And while the Senate version notes the $250 million for Preschool Development Funds, the House version says that “the bill does not include the creation of a new account to fund preschool grants.”

A Washington Post summary of the bill’s highlights by my colleague Ed O’Keefe includes these two education-related items says:

‘The school lunch nutritional changes sought by First Lady Michelle Obama take a hit. The bill allows more flexibility to school districts to implement new whole grain nutrition standards “if the school can demonstrate a hardship” when buying whole grain products, according to Republicans. The bill also relaxes new sodium standards until they are “supported by additional scientific studies.”

Here’s information about education funding from a House Appropriations Committee summary on its 2015 omnibus spending bill:

Early Childhood Education and Care – Administration for Children and Families (ACF) – The bill provides $17.8 billion in discretionary resources for the ACF, which is a $108 million increase. This includes a $75 million increase for activities within the Child Care and Development Block Grant to improve the quality and safety of infant and toddler care. The bill also continues increased funding provided in fiscal year 2014 for the expansion of the Early Head Start program, providing additional early education opportunities for toddlers from low-income families throughout the country.


Department of Education – The bill funds the Department of Education at $70.5 billion. This is $133 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted program level.
Title I Program – These basic grants to local school districts to help children become proficient in reading and math are funded at $14.4 billion, an increase of $25 million above the 2014 level.
Pell Grants – As per existing statute, the maximum Pell Grant award is increased to $5,830, funded by a combination of discretionary and mandatory funds. This funding increase is outside of the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee.
Special Education – Special Education grants to states are funded at $11.5 billion in the legislation – $25 million above the 2014 level.
No Funding for Newly Proposed Administration Initiatives – The bill does not include the creation of a new account to fund preschool grants, and eliminates the President’s controversial Race to the Top initiative.

And here’s information about education funding from a Senate Appropriations Committee summary on its 2015 omnibus spending bill:

High-quality early childhood care and education has been proven to have positive, lasting effects for children and families. It also supports the nation’s long-term economic security by preparing our next generation of workers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. This bill supports the key 33 federal investments in early childhood care and education, for children and their families from before birth through age five, including:
Development Block Grant (CCDBG)—The bill includes $2.435 billion, a $75 million increase, for the CCDBG. In November, Congress overwhelmingly passed the CCDBG Act of 2014, the first reauthorization of the program since 1996. This reauthorization included key updates and reforms, including requiring states to strengthen health and safety standards. Improving the quality of child care programs while maintaining working families’ access to quality child care options will require significantly more resources, but the increase in funding for the CCDBG is an important step in helping states implement these key reforms and support working families’ access to quality, affordable child care.
Head Start—The bill includes $8.598 billion for Head Start, maintaining support for key investments in Head Start and Early Head Start, including Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, made last year.
Preschool Development Grants—The agreement provides $250 million to continue support for Preschool Development Grants. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) awards $250 million to states through grants designed to help states initiate or implement high-quality public preschool programs for low- and moderate-income families. The funding in this bill will support the second year of what is expected to be four year awards. Research is clear that the benefits of high-quality early childhood education programs exceed costs by varying but significant amounts.
Responds to Emerging and Changing Needs
Unaccompanied children (UC) program—The number of children fleeing escalating gang and drug violence in Central America, seeking sanctuary in the United States, began to significantly increase in 2012. In total in fiscal year 2014, more than 57,000 children were apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and transferred to HHS care, more than double the number of children in fiscal year 2013.
This bill includes $948 million for the UC program, $80 million more than the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. This will allow HHS to continue to provide vital health, mental health and education services for children when they first arrive in the United States. It will also support legal services for children as they seek safety in the United States from extreme violence and abuse in their home countries. In addition, given the uncertainty in this program, the bill provides expanded transfer authority to help HHS respond to sudden or urgent needs in the future.
The agreement also includes $14 million in new funding for schools that have experienced a significant increase in the number of immigrant children enrolled in the current school year. These funds will help schools provide academic instruction and support to such students, without reducing support for existing student populations.


Not-for-Profit Student Loan Servicing—The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 eliminated the mandatory funding source that supported not-for-profit student loan servicer contracts. The bill provides $1.397 billion, an increase of $230.924 million, for the Student Aid Administration, to prevent disruption of student loan servicing for millions of borrowers.



Increases Access to Higher Education and Addresses College Affordability

Pell Grants—The bill provides $22.475 billion for the Pell Grant program, which provides $4.063 billion more than is needed to maintain the maximum discretionary award level at $4,860 for the 2015-2016 school year. Combined with mandatory funding, the total maximum award is estimated to increase by $100 to $5,830. There will be approximately 8.7 million Pell Grant recipients during the 2015-2016 school year, an increase of 142,000 students. The $4.063 billion surplus will carryover and help pay for the cost of the program in fiscal year 2016.
Federal Work Study (FWS)—The bill includes $989.728 million, an increase of $15 million, for the FWS program to help needy students meet the cost of their education through part-time employment. At this funding level, an additional 8,900 students will receive FWS awards.
Career Pathways—The bill includes a new provision reinstating financial aid eligibility for students without high school diplomas enrolled in career pathway programs at community colleges. Research shows that when low-skilled adults are enrolled in these programs, which provide education, training, counseling and supportive services concurrently, they are more likely to earn college credits and workforce credentials and to receive higher wages than their peers.
Adult Education State Grants—The bill includes $568.955 million, an increase of $5 million, for Adult Education State Grants. Thirty-six million adults lack basic literacy and numeracy skills and are not well-positioned to compete for living wage jobs in the 21st century economy. The increase in funding above the fiscal year 2014 level helps to address this persistent challenge.
Aid for Institutional Development—The bill includes $530.014 million, an increase of $8.715 million, for the Aid for Institutional Development programs, which are designed to strengthen institutions of higher education that serve high percentages of minority students and students from low-income backgrounds. The bill also includes a new provision allowing community 36
colleges and Minority-serving Institutions to continue using income earned from endowments for student scholarships.
TRIO—The bill includes $839.752 million for TRIO, an increase of $1.5 million, to help low-income and first generation college students plan for, prepare for and succeed in college. The bill also includes a new provision ensuring TRIO Student Support Services grants are awarded to institutions in a timely manner.
Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success—The bill includes $5 million to establish Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success on college campuses. These centers provide a single point of contact to help veterans integrate into the university community by providing comprehensive support services, including counseling, academic advising and the coordination of federal student aid and veterans benefits. This program last received funding in fiscal year 2010.
First in the World (FITW)—The bill includes $60 million to implement the second year of the FITW initiative. FITW provides grants to colleges and universities to support innovative strategies that make college more affordable and improve educational outcomes. In fiscal year 2014, 24 colleges and universities received FITW grants. With the funding provided in fiscal year 2015, the Department of Education will make new awards through a second grant competition.
National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities (National Center).—The bill includes $2.5 million to support a new National Center that increases the access to and completion of postsecondary education for students with disabilities. The National Center will help students with disabilities make the transition from high school to college by providing information on accommodations and transition programs available at institutions of higher education. The National Center will also provide training to college faculty and staff on how to improve services and provide accommodations for students with disabilities.