Deal on Federal Education Funding for Fiscal 2012: “Race to the Top” Survives

News reports late Thursday indicate that a deal has been cut between House Republicans and Senate Democrats in Congress on federal spending for major programs including public education. Title I grants for the disadvantaged and federal aid for students with disabilities both would see slight gains. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which would have been eliminated under the original House version of the education budget, instead will survive another year, but with reduced funding.

The spending bill provides $71 billion for education programs through September 2012. The amount for Race to the Top drops from $700 million down to a still substantial $550 million, allowing the U.S. Department of Education to continue to use federal grants as an incentive to states to adopt the version of education reform favored by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (According to Education Week magazine, Race to the Top grants now could be issued directly to districts, not just via state education agencies. This change could be of considerable consequence for Texas, where the Texas Education Agency under Gov. Rick Perry has opted out of Race to the Top.)

Other programs of the Obama administration also survive in the 2012 budget, including School Improvement Grants and the Investing in Innovation grant program. Both are funded roughly at the same level as last year ($535 million and $150 million, respectively). One other program, the Promises Neighborhoods initiative providing wraparound services (including health care) for schools, received twice as much as last year–$60 million, up from $30 million. However, the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provides support for performance-pay programs, was cut by 25 percent, to $300 million from $400 million.

All of these amounts may still be subject to change through a separate disaster-relief bill, which would shave roughly 2 percent from these and other programs across the federal government to fund emergency disaster aid.