Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Proposed education spending hike faces resistance in Senate

- Tribune News Service Cq-roll Call

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s proposed historic increases in education spending ran into headwinds at a Senate Appropriat­ions subcommitt­ee hearing Wednesday, including apparent opposition to tuition-free college from Democratic Sen.

Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

Manchin, who has already shown his power in the 50-50 Senate to scale back or derail administra­tion initiative, told Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that free tuition for the first two years might not help students get through college and instead suggested making student loans for that period forgivable.

“Let them earn it. Don’t give it on the front end. Let them earn it on the back end,” Manchin said.

Cardona tried to sell a proposed 40% increase in education spending, to $102.8 billion next fiscal year, as well as programs from the administra­tion’s infrastruc­ture and jobs proposals. He argued the increased investment­s would help close long-term equity gaps in education as well as help recovery from learning losses caused by the coronaviru­s pandemic.

“With the budget proposal, the American Families Plan is a transforma­tional opportunit­y for our country, to not only recover from the pandemic, but to be better than we ever were before in education,” Cardona told members of the Labor-hhsEducati­on Appropriat­ions Subcommitt­ee.

The lion’s share of the department budget would go toward a $20 billion increase in the Title I program, which provides a sliding scale of funding programs for schools based on their percentage of low-income students. However, the budget also includes elements from the administra­tion’s infrastruc­ture and economic developmen­t proposals, such as making the first two years of community college free.

Manchin, whose state backed Donald Trump over Biden by nearly 39 percentage points in November, has emerged as a key impediment to plans to “go big” on spending for infrastruc­ture and other programs, including the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan that includes not only expanded education programs, but also more affordable child care, paid family and medical leave for workers, and an extension of an expanded child tax credit.

Manchin’s opposition in Wednesday’s hearing could be enough to scuttle free college, a promise Biden – whose wife is a community college teacher – made on the campaign trail and has touted in speeches this spring. It comes as Democrats are preparing a budget resolution that would allow them to pass a spending package later this year without Republican support, but only if all Democrats are united.

The Senate filibuster prevents Biden from passing a spending plan without significan­t Republican support, and Democrats have sought for months to woo Manchin’s backing for an infrastruc­ture bill that can proceed without it.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO., pushed back against the proposed spending increases, especially because much of the aid already allocated to schools earlier in the pandemic has not been spent. He said Education Department documents showed schools spent about $9 billion of the more than $190 billion distribute­d so far from various COVID-19 recovery bills.

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