WASHINGTON, D.C. –
Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and
Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) today announced the Senate has approved the fiscal year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill, which includes increased funding for federal Impact Aid and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs. In meetings with Maryland’s local leaders to discuss the impact of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission’s 2005 recommendations, both Senators pledged to fight for increases to these programs, which could dramatically ease pressure on local and state government budgets and allow more funds to support BRAC-implementation efforts.
“My promises made to BRAC-impacted communities are promises kept. BRAC brings opportunities, but it also brings great challenges. We must now work together to help Maryland address the increased demands on our communities,” said Senator Mikulski. “I will continue to focus on how federal dollars can help our counties, and fight for an increased federal investment in these priorities.”
“Maryland was chosen through the BRAC process for an expanded military and intelligence presence. We are proud of this new mission and excited about the opportunities it brings. At the same time, we also realize that an influx of new residents requires increased infrastructure,” said Senator Cardin. “I am pleased the federal government has recognized the challenges faced by Maryland communities during the ongoing BRAC process and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure continued federal support.”
The spending bill includes nearly $1.25 billion for the federal Impact Aid program, a $20 million increase over the President’s request. The program provides federal funding to school districts that have increased enrollment due to federally connected children. These are students with a parent who is either a member of the Armed Forces living and/or working on a military base, or who is a civilian contractor working on a military base or other federally owned land. This also includes children residing on Indian lands or federally owned, low-rent housing facilities. Impact Aid funds can be used for school construction, hiring new teachers, and updating technology.
The Department of Defense estimates that Maryland will receive at least an additional 4,000 federally connected students between 2007 and 2011, with Harford and Anne Arundel County school districts being among the most heavily impacted.
The spending bill also provides $12.3 billion in increased funding for IDEA, despite the President’s budget request of only $10.49 billion. The IDEA program entitles children with disabilities to a public education and provides federal funds to help schools with the cost. In theory, the federal government pays 40 percent of a state’s special education costs, with the rest subsidized by the state and local governments. However, the Bush Administration has not made good on its commitment, despite Congress’ efforts every year to increase funding and accountability. At its height, the federal government has never paid more than 18 percent to Maryland. This means local districts must make up the difference by skimping on special education, cutting from other education programs, or raising taxes.
“I don’t want to force states and local school districts to forage for funds, cut back on teacher training, or delay school repairs because the federal government has failed to live up to its commitment to special education,” said Senator Mikulski. “I will continue to fight for funding of IDEA, because I don’t want special education to be a hollow promise.”
“Because IDEA required states to provide disabled children with a quality public education, millions of children in Maryland and the nation now have a much brighter future,” said Senator Cardin. “But that federal imperative came with costs, and the federal government has never paid its promised share. These added funds will allow states and school districts to meet their commitment to disabled children without cutting other essential programs and services.”
Senator Mikulski is a member of the Appropriations Committee. Senator Cardin is a member of the Budget Committee.
In the next step of the legislative process, the House and Senate will meet in Conference Committee to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The Conference report will then be voted on by both Houses of Congress. Once passed by the House and Senate, the spending bill will go to the President for his signature.