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E.D. Funding Still Unsettled as Congress Nears Adjournment

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Washington--The Education Department's funding for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 remained unsettled last week, as the Congress headed toward its scheduled adjournment on Oct 5.

The House and Senate have passed separate appropriations bills for the department, but it was unclear, Congressional aides said, whether the chambers could reconcile their differences in a conference committee before the end of the fiscal year.

If an agreement cannot be reached on the regular funding measure, funds for the department and other agencies for which regular spending bills have not been passed would be provided under a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution.

The House version of the continuing resolution would set the Education Department's fiscal 1985 spending at $17.8 billion--$17.2 billion as passed in the regular fiscal 1985 appropriation, plus $600 million for impact aid. The Senate continued work late last week on its version of the measure, which would provide federal education programs with about $17.6 billion.

The Senate approved a regular appropriations bill for the department that would also provide it with about $17.6 billion in fiscal 1985. The House version of the bill set department funding at $17.2 billion.

The Reagan Administration requested $15.5 billion for the department in fiscal 1985, an increase of about $100 million from the fiscal 1984 appropriation. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)

Senate Version

Unlike the House spending measures, the Senate bills provide $200 million for the new program to improve the quality of mathematics and science instruction. They also provide $75 million for magnet schools in communities undergoing desegregation and $1 million for reconstruction of a school in Matador, Texas, which was destroyed last spring by a tornado and does not have adequate insurance to rebuild, according to the amendment's sponsor, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Democrat of Texas.

Senate Prayer Amendment

The Senate approved the fiscal 1985 appropriations bill for the department by a 71-to-20 vote last Tuesday after approving an amendment to it that would modify current law regarding prayer in public schools.

The chamber approved by unanimous consent a measure offered by Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, that would bar funds appropriated in the bill, HR 6028, from being "used to prevent individual voluntary prayer and meditation in public schools."

Senator Helms had originally proposed the same school-prayer language as in the House-passed appropriations bill, which would protect "the implementation of programs of voluntary prayer," but compromised rather than face a floor fight. The House-passed language has been written into education appropriations bills since fiscal 1981, but was removed from the Senate version by that chamber's appropriations committee.

Funding Levels

The Senate version of the regular appropriations bill provides about $3.7 billion for the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged students for fiscal 1985, compared with $3.5 billion during the fiscal year that just ended. It provides about $532 million for Chapter 2 block grants, $53 million more than the fiscal 1984 level but considerably less than the $679 million set by the House. Funds for handicapped students are set at $1.3 million, about the same as the House-passed level and $80,000 more than current appropriations.

Senators also approved $831 million for vocational and adult education, the same as last year's figure.

The Senate bill also establishes a $10-million fund for competitive grants to public schools that are implementing recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The new program was authorized in the mathematics-and-science improvement bill passed by the Congress this summer and signed into law by President Reagan in August.

Under an amendment to the Senate spending measure that was offered by Senator Thomas F. Eagle-ton, Democrat of Missouri, local education agencies cannot receive more than $5 million each per fiscal year under the magnet-school-assistance section of the mathematics-and-science bill.

House Measure

The House, meanwhile, defeated an attempt to cut spending levels for education and other domestic programs in its version of the continuing resolution.

Representative Bill Frenzel, Republican of Minnesota, who offered the austerity measure, said that discretionary spending accounted for about $25.2 billion in the $96-billion bill and that his amendment would cut $504 million from the total. The amendment was defeated, 122-284.

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