This article appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

The fiscal year 2018 spending bill that funds all federal agencies crossed the finish line in March, more than five months after the start of the fiscal period. Since October, Congress passed five continuing resolutions patched together to keep the government operational while it hashed out a multitude of policy differences. The budget process began with a White House directive to all federal agencies that they were not to exceed overall FY2017 funding levels in their FY2018 department budget requests. Furthermore, the White House blueprint sought an overall 10 percent decrease in non-defense discretionary spending for FY2018.

When the administration’s FY2018 budget request was released in February, it proposed decreased funding or elimination of over 30 programs within the U.S. Department of Education. There was also a new $1 billion proposal for school choice priorities, such as promoting private school vouchers, magnet schools and charter schools. It is important to note that annual budget requests are not bills, but express the policy direction of the agency. The House and Senate appropriations committees are the true authors of agency budgets, and Congress often does not concede to White House program cuts that they and their constituents consider critical. And, in a year of mid-term elections, members in competitive races want to keep their distance from controversial issues. 

Overall, the U.S. Department of Education’s FY2018 budget request reflected a 12 percent decrease from FY2017 spending of $68.27 billion, yet Congress ultimately funded the agency in the omnibus bill at $70.87 billion, a 6 percent increase over FY2017. A significant boost to the bottom line resulted from a debt limit agreement reached a few weeks before that raised the ceiling set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which had imposed strict spending limits through FY2021. This debt limit agreement provided an additional $300 billion to military and non-military programs in FY2018 and FY2019. 

In drafting the omnibus bill, Congress rejected many proposed education program reductions, such as the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, a program that helps low-income college students finance the costs of college; Supporting Effective Instruction, a teacher training program; and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before- and after-school programs. These programs retained funding under the FY2018 omnibus bill. However, perhaps revealing a disconnect with the Trump administration, Congress excluded funding for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ signature school choice programs. With a Republican administration and ruling majority party, usually an appropriations bill would incorporate some level of support for new agency priorities. 

Education-related highlights of the FY2018 omnibus bill include: 

  • Title I funding for disadvantaged students in public schools was funded at $15.8 billion, an increase of $300 million from fiscal 2017.
  • Title II funding for educator professional development was flat-funded at roughly $2.1 billion.
  • Supporting Effective Instruction and Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants were level funded. 
  • Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) was funded at $75 million, an increase of $10 million. The program supports professional development activities for teachers, principals, or other school leaders.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Center was funded at $1.2 billion, an increase of $20 million. 
  • Special education: The bill included $12.3 billion for IDEA special education grants to states, an increase of $275 million over the FY2017 enacted level, which will maintain the federal share of special education funding to states.
  • Student Support and Academic Achievement State Grants: The bill included $1.1 billion, $700 million above the fiscal 2017 level, for grants that provide flexible funds to states and school districts, including to expand school-based mental health services and supports; for bullying prevention; and for professional development for personnel in crisis management and school-based violence prevention strategies.
  • Safe Schools programs: The bill included $186 million, an increase of nearly $35 million. 
  • Pell Grants: The maximum Pell Grant award increased to $6,095, funded by a combination of discretionary and mandatory funds.
  • Charter schools: The bill increased funding for charter schools by $58 million, to a total of $400 million.
  • TRIO and GEAR UP programs, which help first-generation college students prepare for, enter, and complete college, increased by $60 million and $10 million, respectively, bringing TRIO programs to a total of $1.01 billion and GEAR UP to a total of $350 million.

This year, federal education programs that support teachers and educators received robust support from members of Congress. Strong advocacy from parents, teachers and stakeholders will need to continue as the FY2019 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education is $63.2 billion, an 11 percent decrease from this year.