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Letter to the full House and Senate Appropriations Committees on FY12 Education Funding

October 19, 2011

Dear Senators/Representatives:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to offer our views as you craft a final Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill for FY12.

We urge you to provide needed investments in core education programs that will help students succeed and set our nation on the path to economic prosperity.  Investing in education makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy.  Funding targeted to improving public schools will see the greatest return on taxpayer money and will strengthen the entire economy.  

Middle class families in America are struggling, and children are feeling the burdens of their parents’ economic worry and uncertainty and, in many cases, their ability to stay afloat.  We believe the FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education bill is critical to ensuring the resources and supports necessary for all students to succeed.  Therefore we urge you to:

  •  Accept the House proposed funding levels for IDEA, Title I, Head Start, Rural Education, and Impact Aid.  The House draft proposes increases of $1 billion and $1.2 billion for Title I and IDEA respectively.  These specific increases match NEA’s request for FY 2012 funding of these essential programs. 
Title I was created to correct inequitable financing at the state and local level that results in fewer resources being devoted to lower-income students.  While Title I has made a significant difference in addressing gaps in educational access and opportunity, many challenges remain as far too many students’ success in school continues to depend in large part on the zip code where they live.  According to First Focus, from 2008 to 2009, the number of America’s children that live in poverty grew by close to 2 million.  In 2009, child poverty reached a level of 20.7 percent – a rate of more than one in five and totaling more than 15.5 million children.  This makes increased funding of Title I even more important, to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed. 

Similarly, the House proposed IDEA increase is essential to ensure all students the services they need to succeed.  For too long, Congress has failed to live up to its commitment to fund 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure of every child in special education.  This continued underfunding – in combination with current state fiscal crises – forces school districts to either raise taxes or dip into general education budgets to make up for the shortfall, thereby cutting other critical services.  The House increase will help take pressure off of state and local budgets already stretched thin and free up funding for other priorities. 

The Head Start increase – which also matches NEA’s request – is necessary to ensure that young children at risk get the quality early education essential for their later school success. 

The Rural Education and Impact Aid increases will help ensure that rural schools and those impacted by federal lands are able to meet their unique challenges.

  • Address an unintentional problem with the current continuing resolution that has caused a cut for the 2011-12 school year for four critical programs - Title I, Title II, IDEA, and Career-Tech state grants.  The current CR contains a 1.5 percent across-the board cut for all programs.  Since most education programs are forward funded, and thus states and school districts won’t receive their FY 12 allocation of funds until July 2012, this cut appeared to have little impact on education programs.  However, Section 115 of the CR states, “During the period covered by this Act, discretionary amounts appropriated for fiscal year 2012 that were provided in advance by appropriations Acts shall be available in the amounts provided in such Acts, reduced by the percentage in section 101(b).”  Because the previous year’s FY 11 CR provided advanced appropriations for four education programs that became available on October 1, 2011, the Department of Education and the Office of Management and Budget have interpreted this language such that funds that derived from the FY advanced appropriations allocated to states in October were cut by 1.5 percent resulting in a loss of $329 million in 2011-12 school-year funds.  During congressional consideration of the FY 12 CR, there was no indication that the 1.5 percent cut would result in a year-long cut in this school year for these four programs.
  • Reject the House proposed changes to the Pell program, including eliminating eligibility for part-time students and reducing by one-third the length of time a student can utilize a Pell Grant.  Many students must work while attending school.  These changes would do great harm to these students and would undermine their ability to attain the education they need to advance in their careers.  In addition, we oppose the proposal to restrict eligibility by cutting in half the family income threshold.  Many students above this dramatically reduced threshold will be unable to continue their education if they are unable to receive Pell Grants.
  • Accept the Senate’s overall Education funding level, which is a small increase over FY11.  In contrast, the House bill cuts total education funding and proposes countless eliminations, including School Improvement Grants, Promise Neighborhoods, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, and Arts in Education. These eliminations will significantly undermine efforts to help struggling schools, ensure effective student supports, and provide a well-rounded education to our nation’s children.  We also oppose the proposed cuts to and potential elimination of funding for minority-serving institutions of higher education.
  • Accept the Senate’s restoration of funding for literacy programs.
  • Reject the House proposal to cut Title II funding for teacher quality programs.  A growing body of research confirms what school-based personnel have known for years—that the skills and knowledge of educators are the most important factors in how well students learn.  Cutting funding for teacher quality programs is a step in the wrong direction if we are to ensure every student the opportunity to learn from the highest quality teachers. 
  • Reject the House proposed defunding of the landmark Affordable Care Act.  NEA members across the country see first-hand every day the importance of access to health care for children’s success in school.  Students simply cannot learn unless they come to school healthy.  Families with access to regular medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home.  Defunding the ACA would simply be devastating to millions of children and their families.
  • Reject House policy riders that would undermine workers rights, including those that would undo decades of National Labor Relations Act protections and amend Davis-Bacon wage protections.
  • Accept Senate language that would alter the Teacher Incentive Fund to respect local flexibility and decision-making.  This language would broaden the use of TIF funds so local districts can invest in reforms they deem most important to improving student achievement.

We thank you for your consideration of our views.  We look forward to working with you as the bill moves forward to ensure the resources necessary for great public schools. 


Kim Anderson       
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler
Manager, Federal Advocacy

cc:  Members, Senate and House Committees on Appropriations