NOTE: This issue of Straight A's contains a special insert that outlines the spending totals for education programs that help middle and high school students as agreed to in the House-Senate conference on the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2004. While not final, the numbers are not likely to change before the bill is signed by the President.
HOUSE PASSES EDUCATION SPENDING BILL, SENATE ACTION NOT EXPECTED UNTIL JANUARY: 4.8 Percent Increase for Education is Smallest in Eight Years: On Dec. 8, the House of Representatives approved a seven-bill omnibus appropriations package that would increase fiscal 2004 education spending by $2.6 billion (4.8 percent) over the fiscal 2003 level. The increase, which would bring funding for the U.S. Department of Education to $55.67 billion, is the smallest increase for education in eight years. In the Senate, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) asked that the Senate consider a resolution reinstating several provisions and striking the 0.59 percent across-the-board cut to education, Head Start, and other programs. However, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) objected. As a result, a final vote on the omnibus bill was put off until January 21, but education-spending totals in the conference agreement are not likely to change.
D.C. VOUCHER PROGRAM APPEARS LIKELY: Congressional Republican Leaders Roll Measure into Omnibus Bill: A private-school voucher program for District of Columbia students was all but guaranteed when members of the Republican leadership decided to roll the $13 million program into the fiscal 2004 omnibus bill, a measure that is almost certain to receive final approval from Congress. The voucher program-a top priority for President Bush and congressional Republicans-was supported by Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), who worked closely with the Republican leadership in shepherding the bill through Congress.
ECONOMIC OUTLOOK IS BRIGHTER, BUT SOME STATES STILL STRUGGLE WITH BUDGET SHORTFALLS: According to a new report from the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), the dire financial straits in which many states found themselves are beginning to ease. During fiscal 2003, 31 states faced budget deficits that totaled over $17.5 billion. Now, only 10 states face deficits, with a total of $2.8 billion in shortfalls. This news from NCSL comes as the federal government is reporting that the nation's gross domestic product grew at the fastest pace since 1984.
NATIONAL ORGANIZATION WORKS AGAINST TAX INCREASES FOR SCHOOLS: Effects Felt in Alabama and Oregon: A national organization is making a name for itself in working against tax increases that would benefit schools. The Citizens for a Sound Economy, led by former House majority leader Dick Armey, has seen success in fighting back tax increases for additional education spending.
ARKANSAS TAKES A LOOK AT ADEQUACY: Study Finds $838 Million Needed to Provide an Adequate Education: According to a new costing-out study, Arkansas needs to spend an additional $848.3 million to provide an adequate education for its K-12 students. This amount is 30 percent more than the state spent on K-12 last year. Currently, Arkansas spends an average of $5,568 per pupil, the fourth lowest amount in the country. Some recommendations from the study were: lower teacher-student ratios, higher teacher salaries, and preschool education. The Arkansas Joint Legislative Committee on Education Adequacy commissioned the study.
COST-CUTTING MASQUERADES AS EDUCATION POLICY: States Propose to Eliminate the Senior Year: Facing fiscal crises, some states are developing new education "policies" that are, in reality, merely cloaks for political expediency. Their perversion of some of the most interesting ideas for helping students to get a head start on earning college credits while still in high school - the "early college" high schools that have been promoted by national funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation - is likely to have devastating negative consequences for the very students the plans purport to help.