2014 NAESP Federal Advocacy Outlook

By Kelly D. Pollitt
Communicator
January 2014, Volume 37, Issue 5

Lawmakers have returned to Washington for the second session of the 113th Congress, and they immediately began working to pass a Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget deal that was negotiated by House and Senate leaders over the holidays. Members of Congress put aside partisan bickering to avoid another shutdown scenario and passed a $1 trillion budget agreement. The deal was agreed to by most Republicans since it saves $28 billion over 10 years by requiring the president to cut mandatory budgetary resources in 2021-2023. Democrats considered the bill as good of a deal as possible right now because it restores almost $63 billion of total sequester cuts over the next two years, which are across-the-board cuts to education and other non-defense discretionary programs.

While Congress put an end to the non-defense discretionary sequester cuts that were scheduled to continue to make deep cuts to education programs, lawmakers failed to fully restore education program cuts that had already been made, and did not provide an increase in funding over the coming years. The omnibus bill lays out spending caps for Congress in various areas over the next several years. It is also touted as potentially the biggest education accomplishment for the year given the number of education-related provisions that appeared in the final bill sent to the president. While Congress managed to pass the budget deal, it is clear that members will struggle to pass key education legislation or reform due to an impasse on issues and approach to reform, as well as the coming year that is marked with an important mid-term election cycle. Lawmakers will work within a compressed legislative calendar which will leave little time to work out differences in major education legislation, such as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Rather, lawmakers are expected to only consider legislation that has broad bi-partisan support or is otherwise non-controversial. To many, the issues in the omnibus appropriations bill signal the extent of Congress’ work this year on any major reform in education. Following provides details of the massive funding bill and the issues it addresses in education.

Highlights on FY 2014 Education Funding

While Congress put a stop to the drastic sequester cuts to federal education programs, several of the large Department of Education programs are not restored to their levels prior to the advent and implementation of sequestration. This year, Title I grants are funded at $14.374 billion, approximately $131 billion under the 2013 pre-sequester levels, and IDEA Part B grants to States received $11.472 billion, or $105 billion under 2013 pre-sequester levels. Further, because spending caps for 2015 and 2016 keep discretionary spending roughly the same as this year, education programs will essentially be flat-funded for two years under the current agreement. 

In addition, Congress increased investments in several early education programs, despite tight budgetary constraints. An additional $500 million was added to the Early Head Start program, as well as $8.6 billion for Head Start, which represents a $1 billion increase to serve 90,000 additional children and provide cost-of-living increase for programs.

Other Education Issues Addressed in Budget Deal

The FY 2014 spending bill also makes several changes to statutory programs in education, which are measures typically handled by the House and Senate education authorizing committees. This signals the continued discord that is likely among members of both the House and Senate education committees concerning a comprehensive approach to reauthorize a number of big education bills, including ESEA. See more on the status of ESEA and NAESP’s position on behalf of principals here.

While the budget bill did not provide additional funding for one of the Obama administration’s signature initiatives, the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program was addressed to allow states to establish their own strategies “with the approval of the Secretary of Education.” This flexibility mirrors provisions in the Senate education committee’s ESEA reauthorization bill.

Notably, the bills reserve (sets-aside but does not actually fund) $250 million for Race to the Top grants to help states develop and enhance pre-K programs for 4-year-olds. This is viewed by many in Congress as a marker for consideration of early childhood-related legislation that was introduced in the House and Senate late last year (see NAESP Statement on Early Education Legislation). Language was also inserted in the bill to allow charter funds to support prekindergarten programs.

The bill also includes a strict interpretation of the “maintenance of effort” requirement in IDEA, which requires that districts maintain or increase special education spending year to year with few exceptions. The Department of Education was expected to make a final rule on maintenance of effort this year.

Other programs were also addressed to help homeless students and students from low-income families served by Title I programs. Language noting that “supplement, not supplant” parts of Title I don’t apply to Title I funds if schools are servicing homeless students. This provision will afford schools serving homeless students flexibility to pay for staff and materials that help those students they wouldn’t have otherwise.

For schools, Congress provided $25 million for kitchen equipment; and $90 million for school safety programs, an increase of $28.5 million (+46 percent) above the final FY 2013 level. The bill leaves the details of how to spend that money up to the Department of Education. Finally, $75 million is provided for the National Institute of Justice to develop a new school safety initiative.

As the year moves forward, NAESP will continue to work with lawmakers to support capacity-building measures for principals. The advocacy agenda will include work to support key legislative proposals as well as comprehensive policy recommendations that will improve federal investments for instructional leaders.

The 2014 advocacy agenda will be rolled out at NAESP’s upcoming National Leaders Conference.

Kelly D. Pollitt is Associate Executive Director for Policy, Public Affairs, and Special Projects at NAESP.

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