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Friday, August 11, 2006

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

Congress Stalls on 2007 Funding Bills: While the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have moved ahead with drafting the money bills for the coming 2007 fiscal year, the word from Capitol Hill is that none of the funding legislation will get wrapped up until after the November elections when Congress plans to return for a lame-duck session -- to complete work on appropriations legislation. So far, only the budget for the Department of Homeland Security has been voted by both chambers; the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations measure remains the sole money bill still to be voted on the House floor.

While the House passed the Interior Appropriations Bill in May, adding $5 million to the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Senate’s version of the bill is on hold after the Appropriations Committee in June approved a measure holding the NEA funding at the current level of $124.4 million as requested in the President’s FY 2007 budget proposal. Advocates are working to build Senate support for agreeing to additional funds in the NEA budget, at least at the level approved by the House if not higher.

The funding bill for the Department of Education approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in mid-July allocates $36.5 million for arts in education, an increase of $1.223 million over 2006. The bill drafted in the House followed the President’s budget proposal and zeroed out the arts in education money for the coming year. Every year since taking office, President Bush has asked Congress to zero out the arts education funding, and once again, due to the leadership of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the money has been restored and increased in the Senate bill. Cochran’s defense of the program’s funding is expected to prevail through the legislative process.

The education money to support arts programs and grants in the Senate bill includes $13.755 million for the competitive art education model grant program for the development of model projects to strengthen and integrate arts and cultural partnerships into the core curriculum; $7.936 million for grants for professional development for music, dance, drama, and visual arts educators; $1 million to continue the evaluation and national dissemination of information regarding model programs and professional development projects funded through the Arts in Education program; and grant support the arts in education programs at the Kennedy Center ($6.369 million) and VSA arts ($7.44 million.)

The Senate Appropriations Committee has instructed the Department of Education to use funds from the amount set aside for evaluation to support the National Center for Education Statistics Fast Response Survey System—an important tool in measuring student activity—to collect data for the report of Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools during the 2007-2008 school year. The Committee expects the survey to include national samples of elementary and secondary school principals, as well as surveys of elementary and secondary classroom teachers and arts specialists. The Appropriations Committee report issued in the House also urges the Department of Education to support the statistical survey on arts education activity.

The Department of Education appropriations bill also recommends $36.664 million for the Office of Museum Services, rejecting the increase of $4.8 million proposed by the President in his budget and passed by the House. Instead, the Senate bill contains slightly over $10 million in earmarked funds for museums and libraries in 19 states, with three-quarters of the targeted spending going to museums. The earmarks range in size from $50,000 to $600,000, with the average grant at around $230,000. For the past several years, the Museum Services money has included a similar list of earmarked funds for museum and library support. The list of institutions identified for the Senate earmarks appears in the Appropriations Committee report: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp109&sid=cp109FZ2X5&refer=&r_n=sr287.109&item=&sel=TOC_1143031&.