New Decade, New Federal Investments in Education

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

January 7, 2020

In the final days of 2019, Congress eked out a bipartisan spending bill that provides a less than 2 percent overall increase in U.S. Department of Education funding for the coming 2020-2021 school year. Most of the modest increase is due to the efforts of a House of Representatives’ Democratic majority that prioritized education funding.

Some of the more promising increases go to the Title I program ($450 million, 2.8 percent, above FY 2019), which provides additional funding to schools enrolling high numbers of low-income students, and to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; $410 million, 2.8 percent above FY 2019), to support special education programming. These investments will provide overdue and necessary resources to some of our students with the highest needs. For example, the Title I increase will provide states with about $35 million in additional funding to support and help turn around schools identified as in need of improvement.

The new budget deal will also provide a boost for higher education, with the maximum Pell Grant award increasing by $150 to $6,345—more than enough to cover tuition and fees at most community colleges. While it’s encouraging to see higher education affordability prioritized, much of the funding for this increase comes from tapping the Pell Grant “rainy day” Reserve Fund—portending future instability in Pell Grant funding when the economy turns downward and need rises. That’s why we continue to support higher education policies, like the Fast Track to And Through College Act, that will not only make higher education more affordable for students and families, but will lower costs for everyone and allow savings to be reinvested into districts and universities—making for a more sustainable model.

Of notable importance, the bill also maintained funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) at $440 million, the highest level of funding for the program since it began in 1994. This includes increased funding for the replication of existing high quality public charter schools and the development of new schools in communities. With federal funding for public charter schools under fire on the Presidential campaign trail from Senators Warren and Sanders, it’s encouraging to see Congressional support remain steady; nonetheless millions of children remain on public charter school waiting lists with nothing in the way of added help this year from the federal government. With high support for public charter schools among parents of color, we’re working with politically courageous leaders to protect and preserve this important program.

Overall, we are glad to see a budget from Congress that increases education funding and rejects the cuts proposed by the Trump Administration and Secretary DeVos. This FY 2020 budget is, in most areas, an improvement over years past, with greater investments for students from early childhood through higher education. Increased funding is absolutely critical—particularly given the historical disinvestments in our highest-need schools—but we must also remember that funding alone is inadequate in producing the changes our education system needs. Alongside additional resources, we must continue to adopt innovative approaches that reimagine the ways we are supporting teachers and students.

As we build on the year ahead, we look forward to continuing to advocate for additional resources and new, bold ideas to create real change in our schools.