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Bennett Gets Cool Reception as Hearings Start

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By Reagan Walker

Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, armed with a spending plan that would boost aid for most federal education programs, received a generally skeptical reception on Capitol Hill last week as the House began hearings on the fiscal 1989 budget.

"Last year, Mr. Secretary, you came before this committee and defended the Administration's proposal to cut education funding by $5.35 billion, or 28 percent from the baseline," said Representative William H. Gray 3rd, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

"Today you come before us with the Administration's first proposal to actually increase the amount spent on education," the Pennsylvania Democrat continued, "although in real terms it still would be slightly less."

"I, for one," he said, "will be interested to hear just how and why this remarkable reversal was achieved."

Mr. Bennett replied that "different facts and circumstances" had prompted the larger request, but as4sured the committee that he had not become a "born-again spender."

He also acknowledged that "no one in the Congress took seriously" the Administration's previous requests for substantial cuts.

President Reagan's proposed $21.2-billion education budget for the next fiscal year represents an $800-million increase over the current appropriation. It considerably exceeds the $14-billion request the Administration made last year.

Although the 1989 blueprintseeks more funds, the Secretary stressed, it also includes several measures intended to make recipients of federal education aid more accountable for the outcomes of their programs.

Chapter 1 Estimate

Bruce Carnes, the department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, accompanied Mr. Bennett to last week's8hearings. The two officials also appeared before the House Appropriations panel on labor, health and human services, and education.

During the subcommittee's session, Mr. Carnes estimated that the Administration's proposed hike in Chapter 1 aid would enable the program to increase the proportion of eligible children served to more than 80 percent.

That estimate drew a sharp challenge after the hearing from an education lobbyist and a key House staff member.

Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, contended that the increase sought--from $4.33 billion to $4.56 billion--was unlikely to boost the number of children served.

She argued that fewer than 50 percent of those eligible for compensatory education now receive help under Chapter 1.

John. F. Jennings, majority counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee, agreed with Ms. Frost's assessment.

"Bruce Carnes must by trying for the Pinocchio award, and he put in quite an entry with that estimate," Mr. Jennings said.

$650 Million in Cuts

On another issue, members of the Appropriations panel asked the department officials to justify proposals for cuts totaling $650 million in such programs as State Student Incentive Grants for higher education, library assistance, impact aid, and Perkins Loans.

Some of the targeted programs have "served their purpose," Mr. Carnes replied. Others, he said, simply do not merit federal aid.

As an example of the latter, he cited the Administration proposal to eliminate the so-called Category B portion of the impact-aid program, which aids districts that enroll children whose parents either live on or work at federal installations.

Although the program is designed to compensate districts for tax revenue lost as a result of federal activities, Mr. Carnes argued, many districts actually benefit from the federal presence.

Under the budget proposal, funding for impact aid would drop from $708 million to $592 million.

In related action, the House Education and Labor Committee adopted a statement last week urging the Budget Committee to accept the President's budget "as a beginning point since it is the least harmful that he has submitted since he has been in office."

However, the statement continued, the Budget Committee should recognize that education programs "must grow if they are to be restored to their prior effectiveness."

The statement urged support for programs that would be eliminated under the budget request, such as education for the homeless and the Women's Educational Equity Act program.

It also called for a higher level of funding than requested for Chapter 1 and the lead program, which is the only broad source of federal aid to upgrade the skills of school administrators.

Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Education and Labor panel on select education, said to accept the Administration's budget as it stands would "be like the man who thanked the thug who stole his wallet for not taking his shirt and pants, too."

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