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Congress Scrambles To Fund Agencies; Veto Possible

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Washington--Although House and Senate conferees finally agreed last week on a record 1985 spending level for the Education Department, the appropriations bill--one of many rolled into a $500-billion catchall measure put together by a Congress scurrying to adjourn for the campaign season--may face a Presidential veto.

Meanwhile, in the confusing procedural maneuvering late last week, some 500,000 government workers across the country, including Education Department employees, were sent home for half a day Thursday, as the Administration accused the Congress of failing its responsibility to provide budgets for several departments for the 1985 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. As of midday Friday, government workers were back on the job under a 36-hour budget extension and House and3Senate leaders, saying they would return to the task this Tuesday if necessary, were working to reconcile their differences over the budget measure.

The government shutdown came after House and Senate conferees approved $17.6 billion in Education Department funds for fiscal 1985. That amount is the most ever for the department, $2.2 billion more than the $15.4 billion approved in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The Reagan Administration had requested $15.5 billion for the 1985 fiscal year.

The department funds were incorporated into the funding bill, called a "continuing resolution," that the Congress had failed to pass by midnight Oct. 3. Lawmakers had granted themselves a 72-hour extension from the start of the fiscal year, but missed that deadline without having completed action on the spending measure.

House and Senate conferees began work last Thursday evening to reconcile the differences in the $500-billion catchall spending bill, hours after the Senate had approved its version by voice vote.

The Reagan Administration has threatened to veto the continuing resolution if it contains extraneous amendments, such as a House-passed $18-billion authorization for long-term water projects.

The 98th Congress was scheduled to adjourn last Friday, Oct. 5, but it appeared that it may return this week.

Bill's Provisions

According to Congressional aides, the agreement reached by House and Senate conferees last Tuesday for Education Department spending would provide: $3.7 billion for Chapter 1 aid to disadvantaged students; $532 million for Chapter 2 education block grants; $100 million for programs authorized last summer to improve instruction in mathematics and science; $75 million for magnet schools in school districts undergoing desegregation; $695 million for federal impact-aid programs; and $5 million for a new "excellence in education" fund.

Congress Passes Bills

The Congress passed two major education bills following a legislative flurry in which House and Senate conferees completed work on the measures in back-to-back conferences last Monday.

One bill included a five-year reauthorization of vocational-education programs; the other was an omnibus bill that reauthorized the impact-aid program and programs in adult, bilingual, and immigrant education.

The conferees killed a silent-prayer amendment that had stalled action on the omnibus authorization bill, House aides said. And they authorized, as part of the vocational-education bill, $500,000 for a national summit conference on education next year.

Before the conference on the two bills began last month, Congressional aides had found more than 250 differences between the House and Senate versions of the vocational-education reauthorization measure.

Most of these differences were worked out at the staff level, and when the House-Senate conferees met for the second and last time last Monday, they had only to resolve six issues.

The final version of the bill, HR 4164, authorizes a total of $950 million for vocational-education programs in fiscal 1985. As under current law, aid would be channeled to local school districts through grants to states.

Of the states' grants, 22 percent would be earmarked for programs serving the disadvantaged; 12 percent for adults in need of training or retraining; 10 percent for the handicapped; 8.5 percent for single parents and homemakers; 3.5 percent for sex-equity programs; and 1 percent for the incarcerated.

Before turning to the vocational-education bill, conferees successful-ly completed the reconciliation of two widely diverging bills that reauthorize numerous education programs. (See Education Week, Sept. 12, 1984.)

The bill reauthorized the impact-aid, adult-education, bilingual-education, and migrant-education programs for four years, and the Women's Educational Equity Act and the Indian Education Act programs for five years.

The bill also upgraded the Education Department's office of migrant education, one of several offices in the department that was downgraded in a controversial reorganization last year.

Funding for impact aid was set at $740 million for fiscal 1985, increasing in annual $20-million increments to $800 million.

Funds for bilingual-education programs were set at $176 million and "such sums as necessary" for the next three years.

Under the bill, S 2496, migrant education would be funded at $30 million next year and $40 million per year through fiscal 1988.

The Women's Educational Equity Act program is set to be funded at $10 million in fiscal 1985; that amount will increase to $20 million by fiscal 1989. Indian-education programs are to be funded for the next five years with "such sums as necessary."

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