Aug 06

House Appropriations FY2021 Bill: Implications for Special Education in Charter Schools

Federal budget processes are complex—and their implications for education are enormous.

The FY2021 federal budget and appropriations process, which started this February with a proposal from the President, is currently stalled—and is likely to remain so until after the November election. While the House of Representatives has submitted its own proposal that includes  $196.5 billion in overall funding for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Departments and related agencies, and has passed 10 out of 12 of the appropriations bills,  the Senate has not yet negotiated or passed any appropriations bills.

While the ultimate FY2021 budget package is likely to be negotiated by a lame-duck Congress following the November election, the House’s proposal offers important insight into the priorities of Congressional Democrats and is therefore worth careful examination for its impacts on education broadly, as well as special education in charter schools specifically.

*In response to COVID-19, several stimulus packages have been enacted (e.g., CARES Act) and proposed (e.g., HEROES Act, HEALS Act) that include money to address education issues caused by the pandemic. These monies will only serve as one-time supplements to what is being proposed in the FY2021 appropriations bills.

High-level takeaways:

The House appropriations bill includes $73.5 billion in funding for the Education Department, an increase of $716 million above the FY2020 enacted level, and $6.9 billion above the President’s budget request. This total includes:

  • $14.1 billion for special education, an increase of $208 million above the level enacted in FY 2020 and $108 million above the President’s budget request. The amount includes:
    • $13 billion for Part B grants to states, an increase of $194 million above the level enacted in FY2020 and $94 million above the President’s budget request.
    • The remaining $1.1 billion will go towards Special Olympics education programs, IDEA Parts C and D, and the National Center for Special Education Research.
  • $400 million for the Charter School Program, $40 million below the level enacted in FY2020. The President’s budget request proposed to eliminate this program, or more specifically, to consolidate it along with 28 other federal education programs into one huge block grant program.

Impact on special education:

Although the House bill includes more than a modest increase in funding, it would not expand the federal share of special education costs to states from the current 13 percent. The “full funding” target level laid out by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is 40 percent of the state’s per-pupil expenditure. As long as IDEA is not fully funded, states and districts will continue to struggle to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

In addition, the House bill includes $482 million for the IDEA Part C Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program, and $398 million for the IDEA Preschool Grants program (Part B, Section 619). It also proposes $231 million for IDEA Part D, which includes personnel development and preparation, parent information centers, technical assistance and dissemination, and educational technology. All three amounts are similar to what was provided in the previous fiscal year. As the Committee on Education Funding (CEF) has stated, continued federal support of these programs enables children with disabilities to access specialized services that will “enable them to grow, learn, and prepare to enter school.” Moreover, CEF’s research has demonstrated that early intervention services not only have a major impact on educational outcomes, but also reduce the lifetime cost of educating a child. 

Impact on charter schools:

In contrast to the President’s FY2021 proposed budget, which eliminates funding for the Charter Schools Program (CSP) and incorporates it into the Elementary and Secondary Education for Disadvantaged Students Block Grant (ESED) that consists of twenty-eight additional federal education programs with reduced funding, the House Appropriations bill maintains all 29 programs but decreases funding for the CSP by $40 million. This decrease could limit state innovation and the expansion of opportunities for students with disabilities to attend charter schools. 

IDEA and CSP dollars are instrumental in allowing districts and schools to develop the capacity necessary to effectively educate their students while addressing outcome disparities for students with disabilities and critical shortages in special educators. The final 2021 appropriations bill must ensure that all students—especially those in marginalized populations—have the opportunity to succeed. Further, as students, families, schools, and communities struggle to overcome the damage being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government should invest more—not less—in these critical aspects of education. While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) which passed in March has provided $30 billion for education to governors and school districts, none of these dollars were directly targeted toward offsetting costs under IDEA. States and localities need more support to meet the increasing levels and complexities of student needs, which can be difficult absent adequate federal funding. Congress can and should increase funding for educational programs that support high-quality education for all students, especially those with diverse learning needs. #HearOurEdStories