E.D. Seeks 1985 Budget Increase To Fund Reforms
Washington--In a sharp reversal of policy, the U.S. Education Department has called for a substantial increase in federal education spending and new federal initiatives in education in its fiscal 1985 budget, which was submitted for review several weeks ago to the Office of Management and Budget, according to informed Administration sources.
The department has requested approximately $16 billion for fiscal 1985, the sources confirm, an increase of about 22 percent over the Administration's fiscal 1984 request and about $800 million--about 5 percent--more than the $15.22 billion recently appropriated by the Congress for education during fiscal 1984.
The new initiatives included in the budget are intended to promote "excellence" in the schools, according to a senior Education Department official. They include a program of "forgivable" loans, budgeted at approximately $50 million, to encourage top students to become elementary- or secondary-school teachers and a plan to use the department's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to help universities and consortia experiment with alternatives to the current practice of training teachers in education schools.
The Education Department's budget proposal also calls for an increase in the funding of programs to improve foreign-language instruction, an increase in the maximum amount of a Pell Grant from $1,900 to $3,000, and tightened eligibility requirements for the Pell Grant student-aid program, sources said.
Like previous Reagan Administration budgets, the fiscal 1985 budget calls for legislation combining the department's vocational- and adult-education programs into a block grant and giving states and school systems the option of providing compensatory-education services through a voucher system, the sources said.
The Education Department's requests for new federal initiatives and a substantial increase in spending come in response to the reform recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and other groups that have recently issued reports on American schools, a senior education official said.
But the proposals contradict the Administration's often-stated intention to reduce the federal role in education and, therefore, have added to what one source said is a "hell of an internal fracas" within the Administration over how it should respond, in an election year, to the numerous and publicly popular calls for reforms in education.
"There are disagreements at the White House over what the federal role in the re-form efforts should be, and they're not resolved yet," an omb official said.
Since the April release of the excellence commission's report, "A Nation at Risk," President Reagan, on the advice of his political advisers, has sought to convey what one senior aide described as "leadership" on issues of educational reform.
He has called on schools to link teachers' pay to their performance and has put on a series of White House ceremonies to honor outstanding schools and teachers, to promote volunteerism in the schools, and to urge volunteer efforts to address the problem of adult illiteracy.
None of the highly visible actions has involved a programmatic commitment of federal funds.
One question being debated in the White House, an Administration official said, is whether this strategy should be continued into the election year or whether the Administration should respond to the current calls for school reform with new federal initiatives, as the Education De-partment's fiscal 1985 budget proposal appears to suggest it should.
The size of the federal deficit--$200 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30--also figures prominently in the internal debate over a proper stance for the President with regard to education and other domestic programs, the official said.
One way the Administration is likely to use the education issue to its political advantage in the coming months, according to members of the education community here, is to point out and take credit for the reform proposals that have proliferated at the state and local levels in recent months. "Why shouldn't we take some credit?" one Administration official said. "It was the report of our commission that set the reforms in motion."
As part of this effort, the Education Department recently sent a questionnaire to school systems nationwide asking them whether they had enacted reforms similar to those recommended by the excellence commission and whether they had been "stimulated or influenced" by the commission's report. The results of the questionnaire have not yet been released by the department.