Federal Funding

The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs. Much of the funding is discretionary, meaning it is set annually by Congress through the appropriations process. Funds flow mainly through the Department of Education although other federal agencies administer some funding for education related activities.

Through the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government provides nearly $79 billion a year on primary and secondary education programs. The two biggest programs are No Child Left Behind Title I Grants to local school districts ($14.4 billion in fiscal year 2014) and IDEA Special Education State Grants ($11.5 billion in fiscal year 2014).

Other federal agencies that administer funding for primary and secondary education include the Department of Agriculture ($20.8 in fiscal year 2014), which coordinates the funding for the child nutrition programs, the Department of Health and Human Services ($9.3 million in fiscal year 2014), which supports the Head Start program, and the Department of Labor ($5.7 billion in fiscal year 2014), which supports Youth Employment and Training Activities and Youthbuild.

Federal education funding is distributed to states and school districts through a variety of formula and competitive grant programs. While the federal government contributes about 12 percent of direct funding for elementary and secondary schools nationally, the amount varies considerably from state to state. In some states the federal share of total elementary and secondary education spending is less than 5 percent of the total, while in other states it is higher than 16 percent.

As an overall share of the total federal budget, federal spending on elementary and secondary education programs through the U.S. Department of Education account for less than 3 percent of the total federal budget. In the annual appropriations process, elementary and secondary education funding accounts for about 5 percent of discretionary funding across all federal programs.

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Title I

The Title I program, currently authorized through the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, provides funds to local school districts to improve the education of disadvantaged students from birth through the 12th grade.

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Impact Aid

The Impact Aid Program is designed to directly compensate local school districts for: (1) local revenue lost due to the presence of federally owned, and therefore tax-exempt, property and (2) costs incurred due to "federally connected" students.

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Federal “Full Funding" Debate

Education advocacy groups often criticize Congress and the President for not "fully funding" federal education programs, particularly Title I, during the appropriations process. They define "full funding" using the authorization levels stated in the legislation.