WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has voiced concerns about the White House’s budget proposals for federal education programs that would mean reduced or stable funding for rural and impoverished school districts.
The administration’s FY2011 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education was scrutinized at a hearing conducted April 14 by the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Cochran is the ranking Republican on this subcommittee and is vice chairman of the overall Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I am concerned that the administration’s budget request either freezes or reduces funding for several education programs that are targeted to assist poor and rural schools. I am worried that the budget request freezes formula grants and that schools with the highest number of poor students will continue to be held back in comparison with the resources made available to wealthier and larger states,” Cochran said.
Cochran cited the request for $14.5 billion for the Title I program, the same funding level for FY2009 and FY2010. This program provides formula grants to local schools and education agencies with high levels of poor students. In Mississippi, 27.1 percent of students are eligible for Title I aid—second only to the District of Columbia with 29 percent eligibility. However, Mississippi ranks 44th in Title I expenditures.
In addition, the Rural Education Achievement Program, which is focused on helping school districts overcome costs associated with geographic isolation, would also see its budget frozen at $174.9 million. The budget request also recommends changing the funding formula for the Migrant Education program so that Mississippi would see its funding share decline to $640,000 from $1.07 million this year.
“I am interested in putting more emphasis on improving the amount of money going to these poor and rural school districts so that they are not locked in last place forever,” Cochran said. “I hope the administration will take another look at the budget request and work with Congress to find more acceptable funding levels for rural schools in small states.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified that Mississippi should benefit from a $3.5-billion School Improvement Grant program whose goal is to help states improve low-performing schools, which are generally schools that depend on Title I program funding. He noted that Mississippi should receive an additional $46 million in School Improvement Grant funding.