The public perception that federal lawmakers earmark government dollars for "pork barrel" highway and water projects in their home states is a venerable one. But an appropriations measure recently drafted in the Senate provides proof that they can also bring home educational bacon.
When Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, proposed a "Star Schools" program to fund educational telecommunications networks, critics called it a "boondoggle" to support a project underway in his home state. The recently unveiled appropriations language buttresses their case.
Several pending measures to authorize the Star Schools program at as much as $100 million provide for multiple grants.
But the Senate Appropriations Committee included a provision in a report on its 1988 spending bill that specifically earmarks its entire $20-million Star Schools allocation for the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications, a nonprofit corporation founded to build a satellite learning system that could eventually link the whole New England region.
M.c.e.t. officials acknowledge that they were the impetus for Star Schools, which first surfaced when another Massachusetts Democrat, Representative Chester G. Atkins, succeeded in including an authorization for their project in last year's ill-fated trade bill.
Senator Kennedy has pursued the issue doggedly this term, recasting it as a broad federal effort to support educational telecommunications in many states.
He won Senate approval for Star Schools as a separate bill in April and attached the program to the Senate trade bill in June. Last month, it surfaced again in the Senate's omnibus education reauthorization bill.
An amendment to that bill limited grants under the Star Schools program to $10 million and reserved a portion of the money for educational programming. But the mcet still may receive the entire $20- million it is estimated to cost.
Several programs included in both the Senate reauthorization bill and trade legislation under consideration in a House-Senate conference are to be authorized by the trade provisions for one year and extended in the reauthorization measure for subsequent years.
Aides say Star Schools is still under discussion, and could even appear in different forms in the two bills.
If the original language stays in the final trade bill--which would govern 1988 allocations--and the appropriations language survives the legislative process, the Massachusetts group wins out.