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E.D., in Shift, Seeks Higher Funding for '89

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Washington--In a significant policy shift, the Education Department has submitted a fiscal 1989 budget request to the Office of Management and Budget that would hold the department's funding close to or above its current level.

Bruce M. Carnes, the department's deputy undersecretary, said the request was part of a broader strategy, disclosed last June, that is designed to win greater support for the department's policies by deflecting criticism of its budgets. The department has repeatedly come under fire in the past for proposing deep cuts in federal aid to education. (See Education Week, June 17, 1987.)

When department officials first indicated that Secretary of Education William J. Bennett was eyeing a shift in direction on budget policy, sources said the department was prepared to request $19 billion in fiscal 1989--a $5-billion increase over its fiscal 1988 request, but $5- billion short of the amount the Congress appropriated in fiscal 1987.

No Details Given

Without revealing the details of the recent submission, Mr. Carnes confirmed that it was "in the neighborhood" of $19 billion to $20 billion. "That's considerably above what we have talked about in the past," he said.

Mr. Carnes also noted that the request well exceeded the fiscal 1989 planning level set by the omb of $14 billion. Submitting a request above the omb ceiling is a first for the department, which under Mr. Bennett's tenure has been one of the few agencies consistently meeting4the budget agency's target.

The Education Department and other agencies last week submitted their initial requests to the omb, which will review the proposals and refine them to meet the Administration's overall budget goals. The department's request is likely to undergo revisions between now and the first week in January, when the President is scheduled to submit his budget to the Congress.

New Strategy

Department officials have said their new strategy, which apparently has been well received by some White House officials, reflects an awareness that the Administration's budget requests have alienated members of the Congress and thwarted Mr. Bennett's policy initiatives.

"Sometimes budgets can be used as a convenient club by people who want to avoid talking about the merits" of the Administration's proposals, Mr. Carnes said. "When you take budget off the table as an issue, you can make progress on ideas."

He declined to discuss the ideas the department hopes to advance, but indicated they would stress accountability. And he maintained that the higher budget request does not signify that education has been underfunded. "The American people are very generous with their dollars when it comes to education, but clearly they want results for all those dollars," he said.

'No Surprise'

Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, expressed skepticism of the department's intentions, saying that "it comes as no surprise that their budget strategy would change" as a Presidential election nears, particularly since education has become such a politically charged issue.

The department's budget shift reflects the fact that voters support increased education funding and disagree with what the Administration's policies have been to date, Ms. Frost said. The shift is, in her words, "an admission of obvious bipartisan strength of federal education programs." She cautioned, however, that even if the department's fiscal 1989 request matches its current funding or the $21 billion the Congress is expected to appropriate in fiscal 1988, it could be trimmed substantially in negotiations with the omb

Balanced-Budget Law

Mr. Carnes, however, was optimistic about the proposal's outcome. He said the Department's budget strategy has drawn a "good response" from White House officials.

Maintaining that past budget requests were determined in part by the need to reduce the federal deficit under the timetable set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law, Mr. Carnes said that proposed revisions in the law's deficit targets could ease spending constraints and reduce the pressure for cuts.

Barry White, chief of the omb's education branch, said the $14-billion ceiling set for the department reflects the President's longstanding policy goals, but that "there is no guarantee those policies won't change" as he formulates his new budget.

But Ms. Frost dismissed deficit considerations as a rationale for the cuts proposed by the department in the past or for its recent change of heart. "That argument has never flown," she said, because the Administration's proposals "so disproportionately hit education" relative to other federal programs. She noted that the President's fiscal 1988 request targeted education programs for 30 percent of all proposed budget cuts and 43 percent of all rescissions.

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