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Plans To Merge Programs Rapped

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WASHINGTON--While some members of a key House spending panel nodded their heads last week in approval of President Reagan's overall education budget proposal for fiscal 1989, they expressed displeasure with plans to reduce or eliminate funds for some categorical programs.

"It has taken about 10 years of kicking and screaming to drag you into the 20th century,'' Representative William Natcher, Democrat of Kentucky, told Bruce M. Carnes, deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, during a hearing last week. "Now, you are on the right road.''

Mr. Natcher chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education, which heard testimony on the department's proposals for special and vocational education, student aid, and departmental management.

The Administration has recommended a total of $21.2 billion in education spending, up substantially from last year's request of about $14 billion.

While Mr. Natcher expressed approval of the overall budget figure, he said he was concerned that certain programs would be zeroed out in order to achieve that level.

Department officials argued that in most cases, programs would not be eliminated, but rather merged into other categories. For example, Madeleine C. Will, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, told the panel that the department would submit legislation that would combine projects for the deaf and blind with those for the severely handicapped.

But Representative Joseph D. Early, Democrat of Massachusetts, responded that in his home state "I haven't come across anyone who thinks it is a good idea.''

In a similar vein, the department has proposed the consolidation of three vocational-education "set asides''--consumer and homemaking education, aid to community-based organizations, and bilingual vocational training--into the main program's basic state grant.

The funding level for the basic grant, however, would be increased by $44 million over this year's level; the 1988 appropriation for the three programs, in comparison, was $82.8 million.

Bonnie Guiton, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said the proposal represents an attempt to give states more flexibility in the use of federal vocational-education funds.

Representative Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Massachusetts, asked Ms. Guiton if the department could assure that the programs would continue if merged into the basic grant.

Ms. Guiton said she could not, but added: "Anything worth being stands on its own bottom.''

Mr. Conte replied: "I know the programs can stand on their own bottom, but I want to give them a pair of legs.''--RRW

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