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"Breaking News" – This Story May be Updated As New Developments Emerge

$787 Billion Stimulus Bill Moves Closer to Obama's Desk

By Jeff Hudson - February 13, 2009

Having cleared the Senate on a 61-37 vote on Tuesday – including the critical support of three Republican senators – the federal stimulus bill went through conference committee on Wednesday, as Congressional negotiators quickly reached a compromise agreement reconciling the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

The conference version of the bill – a $787 billion package overall – went back to the House on Friday, where it was approved on a 246-183 vote. As was the case when the stimulus bill first cleared the house, no House Republicans voted in favor of the conference version of the bill.  Seven House Democrats also voted no.

The Senate might act on the conference version of the stimulus bill on Friday afternoon.  Once the conference version clears the Senate, it goes to the President for his signature.

The version of the bill that emerged from Senate on Tuesday was initially greeted with some disappointment, since it did not include $16 billion in funding for new school construction and modernization that had been approved by the House. The $16 billion was also not included in the version that came out of the conference committee on Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the New York Times, “I’m not happy with it. . . They took a lot of stuff out of education.”

But the political reality was that the Democratic majority needed to make a deal.  The stimulus bill needed 60 votes to pass in the Senate.  And when the bill cleared the Senate on Tuesday, it had the votes of 56 Democrats, two independents (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bernie Sanders of Vermont), and three Republicans from the Northeast – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Collins said Wednesday that bringing the total for the stimulus package down to under $800 billion was “a fiscally responsible number.”  (The version of the stimulus bill passed earlier by the House came to nearly $900 billion, according to some calculations.)

As educators pored through the final version of the stimulus bill and related documents – which total more than 1,000 pages, making for a stack that’s several inches thick – many decided that the $106 billion in funding for education was a good thing . . . even though they probably would have preferred the version of the stimulus bill passed by the House.

The compromise bill reportedly includes $53.6 billion for a nationwide state stabilization fund – including $39.5 billion earmarked for local school districts that could be used to prevent teacher layoffs.  Some of that money might also be used to modernize school buildings (but not to build new ones) – somewhat appearing to be mitigating the loss of the $16 billion that had been earmarked for school construction/modernization in the House version. However, given the choice of directing funds to instruction and school operations or spending them on school facilities, the prospect of any school modernization does not look very promising.

The compromise bill also reportedly includes $12 billion for special education programs, and $13 billion for Title I programs that serve lower-income students.  The bill also includes funding for higher education facilities.

Joel Packer, director of educational policy and practice for the National Education Association, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that “overall, we’re supporting the bill,” adding that the $106 billion is “a substantial increase in education funding. To put that in perspective, the current (discretionary) budget of the U.S. Department of Education is $60 billion.”

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.