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Senate Panel Votes $400-Million Reduction in School Funding

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Washington--The Senate Budget Committee last week recommended cuts in federal spending for schools virtually identical to those offered by President Reagan last month, but it rejected his proposed $2.3-billion reduction in aid to postsecondary students.

The Republican-controlled panel approved a deficit-reduction plan that would save about $400 million next year in elementary- and secondary-school programs. Members also approved the President's sweeping $670-million cut in the child-nutrition budget; this includes the elimination of school-lunch subsidies for middle-income students.

Last Thursday, the committee, divided along partisan lines, approved so-called "reconciliation language" that would give its budget-cutting recommendations the force of law, ordering committees to stick by those spending reductions.

Normally, the panel issues general and nonbinding spending targets for the various parts of the federal budget. But this year, because of deep concern over the size of the budget deficit, the committee has moved swiftly, amid intense rhetoric on Capitol Hill and from the White House, to reduce the federal budget.

Reagan Budget Rejected

After 10 days of debate on the government's budget for the year that begins Oct. 1, the Budget Committee last Wednesday completed a $966.1-billion spending blueprint that would save the federal government about $55 billion, reducing the projected deficit from about $225 billion to about $170 billion.

That projected deficit for fiscal 1986 and the anticipated shortfall in following years approximate the deficit-reduction goals set by the President and Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the budget panel.

In a largely symbolic move, however, the Senate panel voted to reject Mr. Reagan's fiscal 1986 budget.

This budget resolution marks the first step in the lengthy Congressional budget process, which in recent years has lasted until after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The full Senate, the House Budget Committee, the full House, and the authorizing and appropriations panels of both chambers still must act on federal spending.

Democrat's Prediction

If the Senate, where the Republicans have a 53-47 majority, approves the committee budget plan, it stands a good chance of being approved by the House, said John F. Jennings, the Democratic counsel to the House Education and Labor subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education.

Still, the package may stall on its way to the Senate floor, observers noted, because of White House opposition to defense-spending cuts included in the committee budget.

And while the Budget Committee staff worked behind closed doors to draft its "reconciliation language" and interest groups sounded dire warnings on the effects of domestic budget cuts, one Congressional budget analyst noted last week that "the appropriations committees will do what they want anyway."

In approving its spending plan, the Budget Committee overrode its initial recommendation to allow programs directed at the poor--such as the Chapter 1, Head Start, and school-lunch programs--to rise at the rate of inflation.

Largest Programs Frozen

Instead, spending for the largest federal school programs--such as Chapter 1 for disadvantaged students and Chapter 2 block grants--will be held at fiscal 1985 levels and other budgets will be cut or eliminated.

To achieve the savings in spending for elementary and secondary education, the committee budget would eliminate $153 million in impact-aid "B" payments; the $75-million magnet-schools plan; the $5-million fund for excellence in education; $30 million in emergency immigrant education and $48.5 million in the Chapter 1 program for migrant-student assistance. (For a complete breakdown of the Administration's proposed budget, see Education Week, Feb. 13, 1985.)

The committee budget would also slash the school-lunch budget by about $670 million, by restricting cash subsidies to those students from families with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line, or about $18,500.

In job-training programs, the committee voted against phasing out the Job Corps, which the Administration had requested, but approved its proposals to cut spending for the Job Training Partnership Act, the federal government's principal employment-training program.

In higher education, the panel ordered a $200-million cut in the guaranteed-student-loan program but did not offer any program recommendations.

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