Cuts Made Despite Push For Education Reform
Washington--The embattled National Institute of Education was under attack again last week, as the Congress moved to cut its budget by 13 percent and to delay the onset of its competition for some $30 million in grants to sponsor research through its national laboratories and centers.
Both chambers of the Congress have approved a short-term spending bill, or continuing resolution, that reduced the nie's appropriation from its fiscal 1983 level of $55.6 million to $48.2 million. President Reagan signed the continuing resolution on Oct. 1; it is authorized through Nov. 10.
Both the House and the Senate have also passed appropriations bills that would extend the nie's funding at the same level through the remainder of fiscal 1984. Those bills are now in a conference committee.
The $7.4-million cut in the budget of the Education Department's research agency was proposed by the Administration. Asked why federal officials are seeking to reduce funding for educational research at a time when many are calling for educational reforms, Sally Christensen, director of budget services for the Education Department, said the cuts were proposed "at a time when we were increasing restraint in federal education programs."
She would not say whether the department has proposed increasing the nie's budget in the fiscal 1985 proposals now under review in the Office of Management and Budget.
A spokesman for Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, Republican of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over education programs, said the Senator supported the cuts in the nie's funding because "David Stockman said that the President would veto the appropriations bill if it contained one dime in education money over the Administration's proposals."
A staff member of the full Senate Appropriations Committee said the political controversy that has surrounded the research agency in the last two years also persuaded some senators to reduce its funding. "The feeling was, 'Let's let nie put its house in order and then we'll take another look next year."'
David Florio, director of government liaison for the American Educational Research Association, said "it is inexplicable" that funding for educational research would be cut in the current climate of reform.
Alan R. Wilson, the nie's acting deputy director, said the agency will cut all of its grants of more than $100,000 by 10 percent as a result of Congress's action. He said funding will not be reduced for the 17 regional laboratories and centers, which account for $30.5 million of the agency's budget.
The centers and laboratories, established in 1964 to conduct and disseminate research on regional and national education issues, were at the center of another controversy last week.
The research agency, under the mandate of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, has moved over the past several months to open the sponsorship of the labs and centers to competitive bidding; since 1964, continued funding for most of them has been mandated by Congress.
But while the nie's director, Manuel Justiz, was meeting with an advisory panel here last week in preparation for the announcement later this month of a new set of "missions" for the laboratories, some senators were working to delay the competition for a year.
Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, a Republican from Oregon, where both an nie laboratory and center are located, has included language in the education appropriations bill now in conference committee that would prohibit the institute from commencing the competition until next fall. It had planned to announce the awards by next fall.
An aide to the Senator said he was concerned that, if announced next year, the awards would become "politicized" in light of the upcoming Presidential election. The aide further said the Senator was concerned that insufficient planning had been done for the competition.
Both the nie and the research association oppose the delay. "nie is conducting the competition in the right way and a year-long delay is totally unnecessary," Mr. Florio said.
Mr. Wilson, the institute's acting deputy director, said, "It is ironic that they [members of Congress] have said they want the competitive process open and now they are blocking it."
nie officials and others contend that Senator Hatfield has moved to delay the competition at the request of the Council for Educational Development and Research (cedar), an organization that represents most of the existing laboratories and centers.
"Every time we respond to Hatfield, such as agreeing to withhold the announcement of sponsors of the labs and centers until after the election, he gives us a new reason for delaying the competition," said one nie official. "cedar is trying to get Hatfield to buy it time and to ultimately kill the competition."
"cedar originally supported the competition, and publicly it still does," the official continued. "Frankly, I don't think they thought we could pull it off; their hope was that we would fall on our faces and have to delay it."
A spokesman for Mr. Hatfield said the Senator "does not want to kill the competition."
Joseph Schneider, cedar's director, was not available for comment.
Mr. Wilson said that until President Reagan signs the appropriations bill containing the language prohibiting the competition from advancing, the institute will follow its original schedule. That calls for Mr. Justiz to announce within a few weeks the research subjects for the new laboratories and centers.
Mr. Justiz has been advised in recent weeks by two groups on the question of a new research agenda for the laboratories and centers: a 20-member "Natonal Panel on Laboratories and Centers" appointed by him, and the National Council on Educational Research, a statutory body which advises the nie director on the agency's overall policy.
According to members of these groups and nie officials, there are no "red-flag," or politically controversial, subjects among the recommendations that these panels have made to Mr. Justiz. "There is no extreme political agenda being favored, liberal or conservative," said one nie staff member.
There was also a consensus among the advisors, some of those present said, that laboratories should be located in regions of the country that do not now have them, including the Southeast.
Research on one topic of interest to Mr. Justiz, the educational applications of technology, was assured last week when the nie director announced the establishment of a National Educational Technology Center at Harvard University. Language in the continuing resolution for fiscal 1983, inserted by Rep. Silvio O. Conte, stipulated that a center be set up in the Northeast.