ESEA and Appropriations


The Advocate, November 2015

Dan Domenech, executive director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

ESEA and appropriations. Appropriations and ESEA. It seems like these two policies have dominated the federal education policy environment all year. And they have. But to what avail? While neither seems likely to cross the finish line without political bruising, is there an end in sight?

Many of you know that I have bet against ESEA reaching the finish line this year, and that is a position to which I still subscribe. That said, there is still room for optimism, and this is a bet I’d be OK losing. And as I write this, the House and Senate Education Committee leadership staff are deep in negotiations to reconcile the differences between their two bills and to advance a conferenced bill that can be voted on and sent to the President.

From the appropriations angle, Congress avoided a shutdown. The continuing resolution policy makers passed to keep government running expires December 11. The CR deal also raised the debt ceiling through March 2017 and raised the overall funding levels for FY16 and FY17 to above-sequester levels, staving off deep, deep cuts. The threat of shutdown was averted, and the chambers have resumed their work of moving a complete appropriations bill in advance of the looming CR deadline.

Congress is not in the clear though. The appropriations bills will be ripe with policy riders, priorities outside of funding work that members attach to bills. These riders can be bipartisan or highly divisive and they cover the gamut. As a point of context, in the 12 appropriations bills introduced in the Senate this year alone, there were more than 550 (!) policy riders. The threat of shutdown during the remaining appropriations process is present, but it is over policy riders, not appropriations itself.

As both ESEA and appropriations continue to move forward, there is ample opportunity to work with your member of Congress. Contact all of your members of Congress—especially any Republican Representatives—to urge them to support ESEA reauthorization. You can refer to the AASA conference letter priorities or the talking points below:

  • Reauthorization is critical to providing the nation’s schools with relief from current law, which is both broken and lacking in the flexibility states and local school districts need to support student learning and achievement.
  • These bills represent a strong step in the right direction because they restore a more proper balance between federal, state and local government in public education.
  • These bills take federal overreach and prescription and replace it with state and local expertise and autonomy.
  • These bills recognize the importance of empowering state and local leaders to use their professional knowledge and proximal location to make the decisions necessary to successfully adhere to their educational missions.
  • Neither bill is perfect, but both get far more right than they get wrong. Our nation’s schools and students deserve a complete reauthorization to be free from the limited, conditional nature of ESEA waivers.

When you reach out on appropriations, the asks are simple:

  • Increased caps must include additional funding for Labor, Health and Human Services programs, including education.
  • Title I and IDEA are federal flagship K-12 programs. We support $100 million increases in both.
  • The country cannot afford to prioritize investment in defense at the direct expense of education. As in sequester, the two elements of the federal budget must be treated equitably, with increases available to both.

Congress alone is responsible for completing appropriations work and must act responsibly to ensure that divisive policy riders—sometimes far removed from appropriations-specific work—do not derail the important work of funding the government and bringing the country to the brink of federal shutdown.