Federal budget compromise boosts several K-12 programs

(UPDATED, 3:47 p.m., to clarify Title II budget impacts on Idaho.)

The short-term federal budget compromise is a mixed bag for public schools.

The budget cuts a program that nearly every Idaho school district and charter uses to hire or train teachers. But several budget line items get a boost, including a before- and after-school program on President Trump’s chopping block.

What’s up — and down — in the $68 billion Education Department budget, approved by Congress this week? Here’s a closer look (and to see the numbers, scroll to page 109 on this file).

Title II

Idaho Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador split their vote on the budget bill Wednesday; Simpson voted yes and Labrador voted no. Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted against the bill Thursday.

Known in budget longhand as the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, Title II grants pay for teacher professional development, or they help districts reduce class sizes.

The 2016-17 budget cuts Title II to about $2.1 billion — a cut of $294 million, or 12.5 percent.

According to the State Department of Education, Idaho schools are expected to receive nearly $10 million in Title II grants in 2016-17. The dollars reach into every corner of the state; 144 of Idaho’s 153 school districts and charters were in line to receive a share of Title II dollars. Those grants are not in jeopardy, SDE spokesman Jeff Church said Thursday. Title II grants are “forward funded,” which means Idaho is spending money received in 2015-16.

Title II funding should remain at about $10 million in 2017-18, Church said.

However, the long-term prospects for Title II are even grim. Trump has proposed killing the program entirely in 2017-18 — a cut that would affect Idaho schools in 2018-19.

Title I grants

Rep. Mike Simpson, on the budget bill: “This is a comprehensive and responsible package that contains many significant wins for Idaho and Western states, and will avoid a government shutdown.”

A budget growth area.

States and school districts will receive $15.5 billion in grants — an increase of $550 million, or 3.7 percent.

Title I grants are designed to help high-poverty schools and districts. And in a state where nearly half of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, these grants are a big deal. Idaho schools were in line to receive about $59 million in Title I grants in 2016-17, according to U.S. Department of Education forecasts from December (the Idaho summary starts on page 31).

With the spending bill that passed Congress, that sum could increase.

Before- and after-school programs

Known officially as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, this line item covers before- and after-school and summer programs, designed to provide extra academic help and a social structure for at-risk kids.

In the long run, the program itself is at risk (more on that in a moment). But the 21st Century program is a winner in the 2016-17 budget: A $1.2 billion line item includes a $25 million increase.

Idaho was in line to receive about $4.9 million in 21st Century money in 2016-17, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Forty-two Idaho school districts, cities and community groups use 21st Century money, and the SDE has been soliciting grant applications to launch seven to 10 new programs.

This week’s votes foreshadow a showdown between the Republican Congress and the White House. Trump has proposed zeroing out the 21st Century program in 2017-18.

Special education grants

Rep. Raul Labrador, on the budget bill: “It increases government spending and borrowing, breaking the spending caps that Congress agreed to when President Obama was in office.”

Another growth area.

The budget includes $12 billion in special education grants to states, up $90 million or .8 percent.

Idaho was due to receive $57.3 million in special education grants, a number that could increase slightly under the new budget compromise.

About 29,700 Idaho students are enrolled in special education programs.

Impact aid

A $1.3 billion line item, up by $23 million.

The impact aid program is designed to provide extra money for school districts that have an abundance of federally owned and tax-exempt property within their borders. Boosting impact aid was a priority for Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

“In Idaho, impact aid is important to the counties and school districts that are impacted by federal activities and I’m glad this bill honors that responsibility,” Simpson said Wednesday.

Impact aid was worth about $4.7 million to Idaho schools in 2015-16.

Secure Rural Schools

This program was not part of this week’s budget bill, but Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are making another bid to save it.

They have joined a bipartisan coalition introducing a bill to save the Secure Rural Schools program for two more years.

Sen. Mike Crapo, on the budget bill: “While the bill passed by Congress today does contain good policy measures, such as strengthening our national defense, investing in our border security, and funding priorities for Idaho, it does not go far enough to address our nation’s fiscal health.”

The program provides extra money for schools and counties in timber country. Here again, the idea is to make up for the taxes schools and counties cannot collect on federal lands. “This is an obligation to rural residents that the federal government must deliver on,” Crapo said this week.

Secure Rural Schools payments have dropped sharply. In 2015-16, Idaho schools received about $6.7 million. For 2016-17, schools will receive about $600,000. If it passes, the new Secure Rural Schools bill would include retroactive payments, making Idaho schools whole for 2016-17.

(For more about Secure Rural Schools, here’s a link to a story from Frankie Barnhill of Boise State Public Radio on the implications for Idaho County’s sprawling Mountain View School District.)