Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2014 budget deal by a vote of 332 to 94; the Senate is expected to pass the budget later this week. The budget vote sets the framework for federal spending over the next two years and is the first step in moving the appropriations process forward.
Specifically, the budget deal provides $63.4 billion in additional spending above sequestration levels for FY2014 and FY2015. But for the rest of this fiscal year (FY 2014), $22.36 billion will be provided for non-defense discretionary programs, such as education and health care programs, and every government agency and program outside the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, new funding will be spread thin. The next step is for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to work out how much federal funding will actually be spent on these various programs. In the wake of the House vote, House and Senate appropriators signaled that they will begin to work to bring the 12 separate spending bills that cover the different U.S. agencies and the programs they administer into a single omnibus appropriations package for FY2014. Congress must act before January 14, 2014 in order to prevent another government shutdown. What remains unclear is how much the appropriators will have to spend on individual education programs, including the Charter Schools Program (CSP). Federal funding for the CSP is essential in order to ensure new charter schools can open and meet parental demand. Nevertheless, an increase–even a slight increase to pre-sequestration funding levels–would be a win for public charter schools. Any new funding will help states grow the number of public charter schools and alleviate the estimated one million student names on public charter schools waiting lists. It has taken some time for Congress to reach a budget agreement. Now it’s time for Congress to put forward an appropriations bill that ensures federal resources are available to support the growing public charter school community. Over the week, the National Alliance will continue to work with members of Congress to educate them on the importance of CSP and the need for increased funding. Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.