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Modest Gain in 1988 E.D. Funding

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Washington--When the dust cleared last month after long weeks of battle over the federal budget, little had changed for education programs, which will receive an overall increase for fiscal 1988 that only slightly outdistances inflation.

Pushing the limits of its deadline, the Congress finally passed a continuing resolution Dec. 22 that includes $20.12 billion for the Education Department--$6 billion more than the Administration requested and $652-million above the 1987 level.

The Chapter 1 compensatory-education program will get a $384-million increase, to $4.3 billion. Only a few programs--notably impact aid and Chapter 2 block grants--were cut below last year's levels.

Passage of the measure headed off cuts slated to take effect under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law, which would have slashed 8.5 percent from all discretionary education programs.

Although education lobbyists expressed relief at avoiding across-the-board cuts, they said they were disappointed that the catchall appropriations package provides at least $500 million less for education than did separate spending bills approved by the House and the Senate earlier in the year.

"Certainly, during the course of the whole year we expected better,'' said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, adding that "during the stock crash we expected worse."

Discretionary education programs--all programs other than Guaranteed Student Loans, which are entitlements--will receive an4overall 4.8 percent increase.

With the inflation rate at about 4.2 percent, Ms. Frost noted, "in total, we're looking at a very minor increase."

Protracted Process

The final phase of this year's protracted budget battle began in November, when White House and Congressional negotiators agreed on a plan calling for a $5-billion cut in defense outlays and $2.6 billion in domestic-spending cuts, which are included in the omnibus spending bill.

Congressional leaders divided the necessary reductions among Appropriations subcommittees according to the proportion of discretionary funding they oversee, and allowed the panels to decide on specific cuts as they reconciled differences between House and Senate appropriations bills.

Conferees on the bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments proceeded without reference to the cuts, then reduced the agreed-upon levels for all discretionary programs in the bill by 4.26 percent, the amount they calculated was necessary to meet the new spending ceiling.

The resulting spending figures were rolled into a massive continuing resolution that includes all government funding for the year.

After much debate over issues such as aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, the omnibus bill passed the House by a vote of 209 to 208 and the Senate on a tally of 59 to 30.

The second piece of legislation needed to bring the budget pact to life--a $17.6-billion "reconciliation" bill--passed both houses the same day. President Reagan signed the bills within hours of their passage.

The reconciliation bill includes new taxes, which will not have a major effect on schools or average taxpayers, and changes in entitlement programs, including a controversial provision that will require agencies guaranteeing student loans to return $234 million in reserves to the federal government.

The bill also includes a provision extending a program under which the Internal Revenue Service may intercept tax refunds for people who have defaulted on student loans, and the funding mechanism for a new program to compensate children injured by vaccinations. (See story on page 10.)

Pell Grants a Winner

Along with Chapter 1, the Pell Grant program for low-income college students was a big winner in the 1988 budget, with an appropriation of $4.26 billion--an increase of $398 million.

Among the other education programs that fared well:

Programs for the handicapped, with a $127-million increase, to almost $1.9 billion;

The Education Department's anti-drug efforts, a $30-million boost, to $230 million;

Science and math grants administered by the Education Department, a $119-million allotment, more than double current spending; and

Funding for the National Science Foundation's science-education programs, boosted from $99 million to $139.2 million.

Senate legislation passed earlier in the year had earmarked $30 million of the nsf's education allotment specifically for precollegiate programs,but the continuing resolution does not. It provides, however, that programs are to be funded in the proportions set out when an nsf reauthorization bill emerges from a conference committee later this year. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1987.)

The vocational-education program, which had been targeted for elimination by the Administration, and the bilingual-education program received modest increases.

Chapter 2 a Loser

The biggest losers were the Chapter 2 block-grant program and impact aid, which compensates school districts that are financially affected by the presence of federal facilities and employees.

Chapter 2 aid was cut by $21 million from its 1987 allocation of $500- million.

Impact aid was cut $9 million from its 1987 allocation of $717 million, but could have fared worse. The Administration had requested only $548 million for the program.

The cuts will effect "section 2" districts, which are compensated fortax losses due to federal acquisition of new property, and the disaster-assistance component of the program.

The Education Department will receive less funding than requested in only three other areas, where it had asked for increases: its controversial income-contingent loan program, departmental management, and education research.

Research Funds Earmarked

The department's office of educational research and improvement received an overall increase of about $4 million for its nonlibrary activities, but $20.95 million of the oeri's $67.5-million budget was earmarked for its statistics branch, leaving $3 million less for other activities than was available in 1987.

The oeri budget represents "a historic shift in statistics and assessment, the first nonincremental increase in history," said Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr., who oversees the office.

"But they who giveth also taketh away," he said, referring to the cut in other funding.

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