Legislative Update: Budget, Appropriations, Forest Counties, and More

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Budget & Appropriations: Last week, the House and Senate each adopted their FY16 budget resolution. You'll recall that the Congressional FY16 budgets, while lacking specifics for education funding, are so severe AASA opposes both. They are so cut-heavy that it is hard to imagine any scenario where either the House or the Senate are able to advance an LHHS appropriations bill that adequately supports the nation’s public schools and the students they serve. Read AASA’s letter of opposition.  

The Senate had a good old vote-a-rama, considering dozens of amendments in the process. I flag one of particular interest for the way it addresses sequester. Sen. Kaine’s (VA) amendment puts the Senate on record that the sequester caps for both FY16 and FY17 for both defense and non-defense discretionary dollars should be listed as equal, and that offsets should include both targeted spending cuts and cuts in tax expenditures. The amendment passed with bipartisan support, including Sens. Alexander, Ayotte, Collins, Corker, Graham and McCain. AASA sent a ‘thank you’ email to each of these Republican Senators for their support for the amendment.   

 Here are some fact sheets on the budgets, including a map of the consequences and state fact sheets.     On the appropriations front, AASA sent a letter with our FY16 funding priorities to the House and Senate LHHS appropriations subcommittees, calling for them to resolve sequester and invest as much as possible in IDEA, TItle I, education technology teacher development and rural education.  

Secure Rural Schools (Forest Counties): Buried within the House budget was crucial language to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Communities (Forest Counties) act. The House language provides a two-year extension of the program, a portion of which is retroactive, as funds had expired in September 2014. The program provided $270 million to 729 counties in the year ending in Sept. 2014. The two-year extension is located in section 524 of HR 2, Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. The SRS extension was included in a broader health care bill, the so-called ‘doc fix’. The Senate did not vote on the bill before adjourning for their Easter Recess, but is expected to do so when they return. AASA sent a letter of support, in coordination with the Association of Educational Service Agencies, the National Rural Education Association, and the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition.  

 IDEA Letter: AASA was pleased to coordinate 14 other national organizations in a letter of support for increased investment in IDEA in FY16. You can read the full letter, which expounds on this excerpt: "While special education funding has received significant increases over the past fifteen years, including the one‐time infusion of IDEA dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, funding has leveled off recently and even been cut. Federal funding has never come close to reaching the promised 40%,causing states and local school districts to find ways to pay for needed services. This means using local budget dollars to cover the federal shortfall, at the direct expense of local district needs and expenditures, and/or increasing local taxes, which is an especially high burden in times of fiscal austerity and uncertainty. Collectively, level funding through the appropriations process and the cuts of sequestration have exacerbated the need for school districts to raise taxes or use local budget dollars to cover an ever‐growing share of the federal contribution to special education. Investing in IDEA, a federal flagship formula program designed to help level the education playing field for students with disabilities, is an investment in our nation’s students and their future, and represents an indication that Congress is serious in meeting its commitment to helping school districts meet the needs of all students. Therefore, we strongly support full funding for IDEA."

Supporting groups included: American Federation of Teachers; American Speech‐Language‐Hearing Association; Association of Educational Service Agencies; Council for Exceptional Children; Council of Great City Schools; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Association of State Directors of Special Education; National Center for Learning Disabilities; National Education Association; National PTA; National Rural Education Association; National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition; and National School Boards Association. 

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