First Look: President’s Proposed FY 2016 Budget

(Updated Below)

I don’t know when or if I’ll have the time to give the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal a through read, let alone any kind of thorough evaluation. But here is my quick-take look at what it proposes for adult education.

The most important source of federal funds for adult education programs, by far, is the Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grant program under Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which was level funded at $569 million. This is the money that states use to provide grants to local adult education programs. If you are a program that gets part of your funding through WIOA, this is the pot where that money comes from. On the other hand, the President once again proposes an increase for something called Adult Education National Leadership Activities. This year, he calls for a $6 million dollar increase  to this line item ($13.7 million to $19.7 million) in order to “support States in their efforts to improve adult education standards and assessments and to carry out data collection activities during the first year of full implementation of the reauthorized Adult Education programs.” This represents about a 44% increase over the FY 2015 spending for this line item. It also represents a substantial increase over the amount that is authorized by WIOA, which caps National Leadership Activities at $15 million.

Congress rarely bites on any suggestion to increase National Leadership Activities funding. Interestingly—and frustratingly—the administration kept the combined total of state grants and National Leadership Activities funding under the total combined amount authorized by WIOA for FY 2016. In other words, even though they went over the authorized limit for National Leadership Activities funding, they come in $33.6 million below AEFLA’s authorized level of $622.3 million for these two line items combined. So they could have increased the state grant line item without going over the total authorized amount for adult education under WIOA. Interestingly, it appears the administration was careful to keep the combined total of state grants and National Leadership Activities funding in line with the total amount authorized by WIOA (in other words, even though they went over the authorized limit for National Leadership Activities funding, they “balanced” this by not increasing the state grant line item). Perhaps Congress will be more inclined to approve the President’s proposal, since on balance it does match is less than WIOA’s total authorized level. Or maybe this will signal to them that adult education is not a priority.

But a big challenge with proposals like this is that the state grant program has a larger and broader constituency than National Leadership Activities. National Leadership funds tend to stay at the U.S. Department of Education—or, as is often the case, with contractors they employ. As a general rule, Congress is more inclined to protect or support increases to federal funding that goes out to the states and districts they represent than funding that appears to enlarge the budgets of federal agencies, especially if they are unclear on what the benefit of this funding will have for their constituents back home.

One other point: adult eduction policy folks are sometimes so focused on WIOA (or it’s predecessor, the Workforce Investment Act) that they tend to ignore or downplay other federal programs that are sources of funds for adult education programs, especially community based programs (CBOs). The Community Development Block Grant program, educational research funding, and funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) are just a few examples. We also sometimes forget to thoroughly analyze the potential for new programs proposed by the President to be a source of funding. If I have time maybe I’ll try to take a closer look at some of these programs in a future post—but in the meantime, don’t be shy about using the comments section to flag any funding issues or new programs that the adult education community should be paying attention to.

Congress never adopts a president’s budget in its entirely. Sometimes, as has been the case recently, it largely ignores it. This year it’s going to be particularly challenging for the administration to get any increases passed. Most of the administration’s new program proposals or proposed increases to existing programs are the product of the fact that they didn’t hold themselves bound to the expected cap on FY 2016 required by sequestration, which kicks in again for FY 2016 unless Congress and the President come up with another deal to get rid of it. That doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that the document is pointless. As a policy document, it’s a useful catalog of the President’s priorities,* and it can give advocates for certain programs or initiatives something to rally behind. It remains to be seen whether adult education advocates will get behind a proposal to flatline funding for adult education programs in FY 2016, after a modest increase last year that was still well short of recapturing funding lost due to sequestration.

*A great example is the President’s free community college proposal. While the funding for this is unlikely to be approved by Congress in 2016, the idea has taken hold and will likely be part of the education/workforce policy discussion for some time.

UPDATE 2/9/15: As is often the case with a “first impression” post that I write late at night, I made a bit of a goof, which I corrected above. I misremembered the authorized amount for adult education in FY 2016 under WIOA, and was too tired to remember to double-check. The mistake doesn’t take anything away from the most important and main point of my post—which was that the President is proposing to level-fund adult education state grants—but an ancillary point I made, which is that it appeared that the administration might have been trying to stick to the overall authorization level by offsetting the increase to National Leadership funding by flat-funding the state grants, was wrong.

But not wrong in a good way! It means the President’s proposal is actually worse than I thought, because in fact they did not even try to meet the authorized level for adult education under the WIOA legislation that the President himself signed less than six months ago. They could have provided the increase for National Leadership and increased the state grants by another $33.6 million without going over the authorized level. This is extremely troubling. Significant increases were proposed for many other education programs: Title I, Head Start, TRIO, CTE, and others. Has the administration lost confidence in the adult education program? What does this signal to Congress?

One silver lining: going under the authorized amount provides adult education supporters a clear path for advocacy. As we discussed in a post back when WIOA was introduced, having authorized levels can be a handy tool, because it can be cited as evidence of Congress’s judgement as to the minimum funding a program needs. Putting aside that Congress’s authorized levels for adult education in WIOA were way too low to begin with, at least there is a figure ($622.3 million) that advocates can point to as justification to appropriators as to why adult education needs more funding in FY 2016 than the President has proposed.

Adult Education and the Shutdown

(Update Below)

Most everyone working in the field of adult education is already aware of this, but for those who are wondering, federal funding for adult education is generally not affected by the federal government hoedown shutdown. Workforce Investment Act (WIA) dollars—the biggest source of federal funding for adult education—are forward funded, meaning that states obtain their WIA Title II funding for the fiscal year that began today during the prior fiscal year. As a result, there shouldn’t be a major impact on adult education during the shutdown.

There are, of course, other federal programs that provide funds or support to adult education. There are AmeriCorps members, for example, who work at adult education programs. But they will not have to pack up and go home—any previously awarded CNCS grant or cooperative agreement should not be affected. (I have read at least one story suggesting that AmeriCorps members would not receive their living allowance stipends during the shutdown, but based on my experience running an AmeriCorps program, I don’t understand why this would be the case, unless the AmeriCorps project grant wasn’t due to be awarded until after September 30th.)

Another example: Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). A few adult education programs (mainly in urban areas) receive CDBG funding, and some reports (such as here and here) are suggesting  that some municipalities may experience delays in accessing these funds, even if they were already obligated for fiscal year 2014, because federal officials may not be available to approve disbursements.

I’m sure there are other examples, (let me know if I’ve missed any), but again, I think the impact on adult education—at least in the short run—is going to be pretty minimal.

Bear in mind, however, that there are several federal programs relied on by some low-income people enrolled in adult education that will be affected. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has just published a brief report, What a Federal Government Shutdown Could Mean to Low-Income People, that is a useful guide to those programs.

UPDATE: The National Skills Coalition has a preliminary rundown on the impact of the shutdown on certain employment and training programs. Also, as this blog post points out, this is not the best week to be doing literacy research—at least if you are looking for NAAL literacy estimates—since the NCES Web site, like most other federal government Web sites, is offline.