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Friday, July 14, 2006

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

NEA Funding Moves to Senate Floor, Final Outcome Uncertain: The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on June 29 approved the FY 2007 Interior Appropriations Bill with funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) held at the current level of $124.4 million. The Senate bill also includes a funding freeze for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) at $141 million. Level funding for the two endowments is consistent with the President's budget request.

Advocates now look to opportunities on the Senate floor, after Congress returns from a week's July 4th recess, and later in the House-Senate conference committee to secure the additional $5 million in NEA appropriations that was approved on the House floor in May. Going into the June 29 committee markup session, several Senators on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee expressed support for including the increased arts funding passed by the House by the time the appropriations process is completed.

The President's budget request with level funding for the NEA, would cut $3.462 million from Challenge America in order to increase funds for administrative expenses by $1.843 million, for direct program grants by $1.117 million, and for State and Regional Partnerships by $508,000. The $5 million in new funding added by the House would restore support to Challenge America and the core grant-making programs of the arts endowment.

In addition to the NEA's funding levels proposed by the administration, the President's budget asks Congress to "change the Arts Endowment's legislation concerning the amount of funds that can be awarded without regard to the one-to-one matching requirement." The NEA's budget submission seeks "legislative language that stipulates that the current legislative requirement applies solely to appropriated funds" and not to grants or other awards of funds made with private dollars raised by the arts endowment.

The Administration's proposed statutory language change regarding waivers on matching funds, along with the overall funding level for the NEA in FY07, will be an issue before the House-Senate conference committee. The House appropriations bill adopted the NEA's request to waive the matching requirement for "grants and contracts supported entirely with funds from nonappropriated sources." The Senate, however, did not, rejecting the arts endowment's proposed language to amend the agency's authorizing language. According to the report Senate bill issued by the Appropriations Committee, "supporting documentation provided by the agency does not demonstrate that the existing language has any impact on its current grantmaking operations." Additionally, the Senate appropriators deemed the proposal to amend the agency's authorizing language outside its purview, observing that "the Committee sees no compelling reason to circumvent the usual process and recommends that the matter be addressed by the appropriate committee of jurisdiction," which has responsibility for the endowment's authorizing legislation.

House Bill Zeroes Arts Ed Funds, Increases Museum Grants: The House by the Appropriations Committee on June 13 approved for floor action appropriations legislation with funding for the Department of Education's arts education program and the Office of Museum Services. The Labor-HHS-Education funding bill voted out by the appropriations committee follows the President's budget proposal and eliminates funding for the arts education program in the Department of Education.

The arts education program is funded at $35.6 million in FY 2006 and over the past five years has made 122 grants to school districts and local arts education partners around the country. In each year of those five years, President Bush's budget has asked Congress to zero out the arts education funding. Congress has annually restored and increased the funds, due significantly to the leadership of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill also recommends $41.385 million for the Office of Museum Services as proposed by the President in his budget, an increase of about $4.8 million over the FY 2006 appropriation.

The House committee report for the first time urges the U.S. Department of Education to focus attention on arts education in its regular assessment of educational progress. The report "encourages the Department to begin planning aggressively in 2007 for the grade 8 arts assessment," which reports on the status and trends of the knowledge and skills of students, subject by subject. The Committee report also "urges the Department to include funding in its fiscal year 2008 request for the National Center for Education Statistics Fast Response Survey on arts education in public elementary and secondary schools," another important tool in measuring student activity.