Early education sees more money, and sequestration cuts are rolled back—but many programs are still funded below 2012 budget levels

budget

Title I grants for disadvantaged students will receive $14.4 billion, and IDEA will get $11.5 billion.

Congress has passed a federal budget for the 2014 fiscal year that includes more money for early childhood education, a priority of President Obama.

The budget also restores most of the funding cut from education programs such as Title I and special education under sequestration last year. But the funding for these large formula-grant programs still falls short of 2012 levels.

Under the 2014 budget, Title I grants for disadvantaged students will receive $14.4 billion, and state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will get $11.5 billion.

In 2012, Title I received a high-water mark of $14.5 billion and IDEA got $11.6 billion. But last year, sequestration—the automatic, across-the-board reduction of more than 5 percent in funding to federal programs—brought these figures down to $13.8 billion and $11 billion, respectively.

The Head Start program, which lost 57,000 seats to sequestration, was a big winner in the 2014 budget, getting an increase of $1 billion, to nearly $8.6 billion. But Congress did not include $750 million in funding that President Obama had requested for states to expand preschool education to more students.

The Obama administration’s signature education program, Race to the Top, will continue with $250 million to support another round of early learning grants, which so far have been awarded to 20 states. But lawmakers turned down a request for $1 billion to fund a Race to the Top competition for higher education. Instead, they approved $75 million for a new “First in the World” fund to help colleges test new strategies to improve graduation rates.

(Next page: Changes to School Improvement Grants—and reaction to the budget from education groups)

The School Improvement Grants program will get $506 million, essentially the same as last year—but Congress expanded the length of the grants from three to five years, to give recipients more time to effect changes.

Lawmakers also added two more options to the turnaround models that districts can adopt under the program. One is a “whole-school reform” model that lets school leaders work with an outside partner with proven experience in turning around schools. The other option lets school leaders adopt any improvement strategy that wins the approval of the Education Department.

Education groups reacted to the budget with measured enthusiasm.

“This legislation is a step in the right direction, and it is good to see House and Senate Democrats and Republicans come together on a deal that, while not perfect, is good,” said the American Association of School Administrators in a statement.

“This agreement is not everything we want, but it is a first step toward restoring a functional government,” the American Federation of Teachers noted.

The funding for education programs was part of a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill. The Senate on Jan. 16 voted 72-26 for the measure, which cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier on a similarly lopsided vote. President Obama signed the bill into law on Jan. 17.