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President Orders Cabinet To Cut 1985 Budgets

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Washington--President Reagan, expressing his opposition to election-year spending increases in domestic programs, last week directed his Cabinet members to cut their fiscal 1985 budget requests to levels below those projected for each department and agency in the fiscal 1984 budget he sent to Congress last January.

Larry Speakes, the deputy White House press secretary, said Mr. Reagan ordered every department to resubmit budget requests by November 14--the day he returns from a trip to Asia--because a number of the initial requests were substantially higher than the fiscal 1985 spending levels he proposed in January.

To comply with the President's order, the Education Department would have to reduce its budget request by about 22 percent--approximately $3 billion. Administration sources confirmed last week that the department has sought approximately $16 billion in its fiscal 1985 request; in January, the President proposed that the department spend $13.1 billion in fiscal 1985. Fiscal 1985 begins on October 1, 1984.

Mr. Speakes said the President told his Cabinet that "the best way to reduce deficits is to reduce spending. And we're going to start right now." He also said that "the only road to take is to keep on sending those cuts to Capitol Hill until Congress finally acts. I want to remember what we came here for. We are not going to start retreating before we go into battle."

Mr. Speakes also said Mr. Reagan decided to order the new budget requests after briefings by David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The President's directive will apparently force the Education Department to re-evaluate its response to the widespread calls for reform in education. Officials there said the department's initial fiscal 1985 proposal included funds for several new initiatives intended to constitute such a reponse.

The budget includes, for example, funds for a program of approximately $50 million for "forgivable loans" to encourage top students to go into teaching and an increase in programs to improve foreign-language instruction, according to informed sources. (See Education Week, Nov. 2, 1983.)

In recent months, the Administration has been challenged by its critics in the Democratic Party, in education, and in the labor movement to "back up" its claims of support for schools with increases in federal funding. The so-called "education question" is expected to figure prominently in next year's Presidential and Congressional elections.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, speaking at a news conference last Thursday, said he had not yet decided what specific steps he will take in response to the President's order, though he did suggest that he plans in his budget request to "prioritize" some of his department's 120 existing programs.

Asked if he thought Mr. Reagan's directive will limit the Education Department's ability to provide leadership for the growing education-reform movement, Mr. Bell said, "It will depend on the outcome of the [budget] process."

'Still Deliberating'

Earlier last week, in an address to urban school-board members meeting here, the Secretary said, "With respect to state and federal funding [for reform initiatives], we're still deliberating about that in the Administration; there's a big debate about it."

"The big question is: Should we keep the federal role limited to what it has been, that is, mainly to help the disadvantaged child, or should we take steps that go beyond that?" he said during a speech to the National School Boards Association's council of urban boards of education.

"We've never believed that you can implement school reforms without more financial resources," he continued. "We know that you can't solve problems such as the building of a great teaching profession without money."

"One of the key items" on the agenda of his proposed national forum in Indianapolis will be the discussion of what role the federal government should play in school-improvement efforts, Mr. Bell added.

"We will have on our platter for discussion, what ought we leave to local school boards to decide, what needs to be spelled out in state laws, and how the federal government can play a role in that framework," he said. "During this forum, we won't settle the dispute over the federal role, but we hope we can arrive at some consensus."

In another budget-related development, the President last week signed an appropriations bill calling for $15.22 billion in education spending for fiscal 1984, which began on October 1. That amount was $2.1 billion more than the President requested for the year but approximately $200 million less than spending levels set under fiscal 1983 spending measures.

Also last week, members of the the House Appropriations Committee turned down an attempt by Democratic leaders in that chamber to increase fiscal 1984 federal spending for social programs, including education, by approximately $900 million.

The proposal was offered by Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, during debate in the committee on a continuing resolution, a bill that will provide funds for federal agencies for which regular appropriations bills will not be passed by Nov. 10. That is the expiration date for an earlier continuing resolution that went into effect on Oct. 1.

Numerous education lobbyists have been urging members of the Congress to set fiscal 1984 education spending at $16.1 billion, the maximum amount allowable for such programs. That spending ceiling was set by the Congress last July when it passed its first concurrent budget resolution, which established broad spending targets for all government activities.

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