House FY 2021 Appropriations Bills Advance; Legislation Addresses NCES Staffing Needs
House FY 2021 Appropriations Bills Advance; Legislation Addresses NCES Staffing Needs

July  2020

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The House Appropriations Committee moved legislation for FY 2021 appropriations in a two-week whirlwind earlier this month. The bills, which provide modest boosts in key federal programs that support education research and statistics, were accompanied by report language that addressed the need to increase staffing at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—a top  AERA priority. 

The report states: “The Committee is deeply concerned about the ongoing staffing crisis at NCES. The shortage of statisticians threatens the administration and dissemination of data collections and surveys that provide an assessment of and insight into the nation’s systems of education. Furthermore, these collections and surveys guide policy and funding decisions made by Congress.”

The language calls for the Education Department to provide the House Appropriations Committee with a report outlining how the department will increase staffing at NCES, as well as an analysis of funding for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in a dedicated appropriations account outside of the Program Administration account. The department would be required to provide quarterly updates on implementing the staffing plan.

The House bill does not incorporate proposals from the president’s budget request to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which AERA strongly opposes doing through the appropriations process. Neither the bill nor the report language references the White House proposals to establish a new assessment center, eliminate authorization for the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems program, and shift the responsibility for appointing the NCES commissioner from the president to the IES director. AERA provided testimony and wrote a joint letter with the American Statistical Association in March on the NCES staffing needs and urged against making decisions on funding based on the proposal in the president’s budget request.

“We thank the House Appropriations Committee for its efforts to strengthen NCES and protect the integrity of educational indicators that are critical in understanding how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected education,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “We are also encouraged to see that the committee rejected the proposals in the budget request that we think would have an adverse impact on NCES and NAEP.”

Institute of Education Sciences 

The House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-H) appropriations bill includes $630.46 million for IES, an increase of $7 million over the FY 2020 appropriated amount. All line items within the IES budget received an increase, with the exception of Assessment, which would be held flat. Details are included in the following table:

Institute of Education Sciences ($ in millions)


FY 2020 Final

FY 2021 President's Budget Request

FY 2020 Final v. FY 2021 Request (%)

FY 2020 Final v. FY 2021 Request ($)

FY 2021 (House)

FY 2021 House v. FY 2020 %

   Institute of Education Sciences







Research, Development and Dissemination







Regional Educational Laboratories





















Statewide Data Systems







Special Education Studies and Evaluations







Research in Special Education







National Science Foundation 

The House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill includes $8.55 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of $290 million, or 3.3 percent, above FY 2020 levels. Within NSF, Research and Related Activities would receive $6.97 billion, nearly $230 million more than in FY 2020, and the Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) would receive $970 million, an increase of $30 million. Within EHR, the bill includes $20 million specifically for the NSF INCLUDES program.

The bill report language includes recognition of the important role of NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE): “The Committee believes this research provides an evidence-based understanding of the human condition, resulting in more-informed policymaking and better-informed spending on a full range of national issues. The Committee believes SBE-supported research makes the US unique among other nations and recommends no less than the fiscal year 2020 levels for SBE activities.”

National Institutes of Health 

The Labor-H bill would provide nearly $47 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $5.3 billion, or 12.7 percent, over the FY 2020 amount. Much of this increase comes from an infusion of $5 billion in emergency funding due to Covid-19, of which $2.5 billion is reserved to increase the budget of each NIH institute or center by 7 percent above FY 2020 levels.

Accounting for the emergency funding, this would result in an allocation of $1.67 billion for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), an increase of $113 million. The committee report includes two recommendations related to education research. The first highlights learning disabilities research: “The Committee encourages NICHD to continue its robust research into language, reading development, learning disabilities, and disorders that adversely affect the development of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mathematics abilities. The Committee also encourages NICHD to increase its investment in its Learning Disabilities Research Centers and Learning Disabilities Innovation Hubs.”

The second recommendation references concerns raised in the development and implementation of the current NICHD strategic plan: “The Committee has reviewed NICHD’s 2020 Strategic Plan and believes that there is insufficient focus on behavioral health, cognition, development of young children, language, learning differences, and school readiness. NICHD has a long history of funding critical and meritorious work in these areas. The Committee encourages NICHD to consider otherwise qualified grants in these areas on the same basis as any other areas of focus as it works to implement its strategic plan.”

Next Steps

The House voted to advance the Labor-H and CJS bills on the floor as part of a six-bill “minibus” on July 31. Meanwhile, action in the Senate has been on hold due to an impasse on potential amendments from Democrats to include emergency funding in the FY 2021 appropriations bills and to address racial injustice. There is a growing sense that a continuing resolution will likely be needed to allow for a short-term extension of funding beyond the end of FY 2020 on September 30.

Related stories:

•    “AERA Submits Senate Testimony Calling for Support of Education Research Funding and Protection of the Data and Research Infrastructure,” AERA Highlights, May 2020

•    “AERA and ASA Jointly Raise Concerns about NCES,” AERA Highlights, March 2020

•    “AERA Provides Appropriations Testimony with Emphasis on EHR and IES,” AERA Highlights, March 2020

•    “President’s Budget Proposes Deep Cuts for Federal Agencies Supporting Education Research and Troubling Changes to IES,” AERA Highlights, February 2020

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