May 1st, 2022

April 2022 Policy News: 5 Things to Know about the Appropriations Process

Federal investments in education funding are critical to the success of students with disabilities. This month, we break down the appropriations process and how NCLD has advocated on behalf of students with disabilities along the way.

1. The President’s budget request is a critical starting point, but there is a lot more to the process. 

At the end of last month, President Biden released his administration’s FY 2023 budget proposal, marking the start of the FY 2023 appropriations cycle. The budget request signals the Administration’s top priorities and the funding levels they propose to see their ambitions realized. This year, the President’s budget request proposed a significant $3.3 billion increase in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which NCLD and partners have applauded and shared broadly to convey the importance of this needed funding increase.

2. Advocacy is a crucial component. Members of Congress consider requests from constituents, advocacy organizations, and their peers. 

NCLD wrote to Members of Congress to express support for IDEA funding, funding for research on learning disabilities and special education, and other critical programs that support students with disabilities. In addition, we joined partners in coalitions such as the IDEA Full Funding Coalition to collectively advocate for the funding increases needed in our schools. 

In this period, Members of Congress also circulate “Dear Colleague” letters to show support for a given program and to enable fellow Members of Congress to sign on to show their support. For example, NCLD was glad to see Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), chair of the House Dyslexia Caucus, circulate a Dear Colleague letter supporting learning disabilities research. The letter, which was co-signed by eleven other Members of Congress, prioritized funding for Learning Disabilities Research Centers and the National Center for Special Education Research.

Members of Congress also take requests from their own constituents! It’s not too late to advocate and show your support for IDEA and research funding! Click here to send a message to your Members of Congress. 

3. Total spending levels are determined through a process called budget resolution. 

Before the Appropriations Committees write their bills, the Budget Committee in the House and Senate must propose “budget resolutions”. The budget resolution sets top line spending levels and establishes guidance for revenue, spending, deficits and other budget-related issues. The budget resolution is a little different from other legislation in that it can pass with just a simple majority and does not need the president’s signature. The Senate also cannot filibuster these resolutions.

4. The House and Senate produce 12 subcommittee appropriations bills. NCLD follows the funding levels within the LHHS-ED bill. 

Next, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, through their 12 subcommittees, hold hearings to examine the budget requests and needs of federal spending programs. The House and Senate then produce appropriations bills to fund the federal government. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS-ED) bill specifies how much funding goes to programs under the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Labor (including the Office of Disability Employment Policy), and Department of Health and Human Services (including National Institutes of Health). For Fiscal Year 2022, an omnibus bill was passed, meaning that all funding bills were voted on in one package. The deadline to pass these bills is September 30, otherwise Congress must pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) which extends the previous year’s budget for a certain amount of time. If Congress fails to pass either the appropriations bills or a CR, the government shuts down. 

5. It’s not just about numbers. Report language accompanies each bill to provide more detailed guidance to departments and agencies. 

In addition to the amounts that are specified in an appropriation bill, a companion report is often created. Report language can be very important to make sure certain programs and projects get recognized, especially if they are not given a specific line item somewhere else in the budget. For example, Learning Disabilities Research Centers (LDRCs) are funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), within the NIH. This is the only federal funding for researchers who explore child development and learning disabilities, but it is NICHD’s responsibility and authority to allocate those funds to the research centers, not Congress. Last year, the House included report language about the significance of LDRCs to signal to NICHD it should sustain funding for this important research. NCLD hopes to see this report language used in the FY 2023 appropriations bill. 

In Case You Missed It:

  • NCLD endorsed the Student Mental Health Rights Act, a bill focused on improving access to mental health care on college campuses. 
  • Announcements from the U.S. Department of Education (ED)
    • ED hosted an American Rescue Plan Recovery Summit to show how states and districts are using Covid relief funds to address learning recovery, mental health supports, and labor shortages, as well as leveraging other investments to support recovery. Read more here
    • ED’s Office of Civil Rights resolved an investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District with an agreement requiring the district to take necessary steps to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including compensatory services, during and resulting from the pandemic. Read more here.
  • A new report about the research at the Institute for Education Sciences, including the National Center for Special Education Research is released

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