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Budget Projects Little Growth but Many Funding Shifts

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Washington--President Reagan's 1990 budget proposal, his last, includes a $9.4-million increase for the Education Department.

In a $1.15-trillion budget plan, that is a tiny amount. But the fiscal blueprint released last week is only the third of Reagan's annual proposals not to propose an overall cut in education spending. The other two were released in the Presidential election years of 1984 and 1988.

The proposal looks good in comparison with previous Reagan budgets, said Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. When inflation is taken into account, however, it represents "an actual cut of at least 4 percent," she stressed.

"If you look at it in terms of what you would expect of an education President, essentially freezing the budget at last year's level is not anybody's definition of investing further resources in education," she said, referring to President-elect George Bush's vow to be the "education President."

The 1990 budget proposes elimination of 25 education programs--almost all of them ones the Administration has previously sought without success to zero out--and shifts about $750 million of the resulting savings to other initiatives.

The programs slated for elimination include Star Schools, contributions to the Perkins Loan fund, dropout demonstration grants, workplace-literacy grants, and several small scholarship programs.

The Administration also repeated its proposal to eliminate impact-aid payments for "b" students, whose parents either live or work on federal property. Officials maintain that the parents of most of these children contribute to the local tax base.

The targeted programs are initiatives "whose original purposes have been accomplished, which finance activities of relatively low priority, which duplicate much larger, more comprehensive programs, or which represent unnecessary federal expenditures," a budget document states.

Focus on the Disadvantaged

Education Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos said at a news conference that the department's priorities were refocused to concentrate on programs that serve the disadvantaged and the handicapped, which he said would receive about 85 percent of budgeted funds.

The Chapter 1 compensatory-education program is slated for a 3.3 percent increase, to $4.1 billion, $172.9 million of which would be disbursed in concentration grants. State special-education grants would rise from a total of $1.79 billion to $1.84 billion.

The Pell Grant program would receive one of the largest increases, from $4.48 billion to $4.74 billion. Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants would also get more, while work-study, which was slated for elimination in previous budgets, would be funded at the 1989 level.

Other programs that would receive significant increases include Chapter 2 block grants and drug, Indian, bilingual, and adult education.

Education research--one area in which Administration requests have usually exceeded appropriations--would receive the largest percentage increase, 13 percent.

The Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching, for which Mr. Bush has vowed to seek increased funding, would receive the same amount as in 1989 under the Reagan plan.

Making Good on a Promise

Mr. Cavazos said he had made good on his promise to fight for increased education spending.

"In terms of [the] Gramm-Rudman-Hollings [deficit-reduction law], and in terms of how other departments came out, we did well," he said.

He called the Reagan plan "a sound, fiscally responsible, responsive, and targeted budget ... that reflects the priorities that I have been advocating these last four months."

The Secretary said he had not yet discussed possible budget changes with the President-elect.

Mr. Bush has said that he plans to submit revisions in early February, without indicating what parts of the budget he would alter.

The budget contains no new legislative proposals. For vocational education, which is to be reauthorized this year, the Education Department asked for an increase from $918.4 million to $949.3 million. The department indicated that the funds would be spent under a new program, but did not lay out any plans for it.

The document does contain a number of ideas that have been rejected or ignored by the Congress, some of them repeatedly.

They include combining programs for deaf-blind and severely handicapped children; altering the immigrant-education law to prevent schools from spending grants schoolwide, rather than directly on immigrant children; substantially increasing the appropriations ceiling for the income-contingent loan program; and replacing existing library programs with one targeted almost entirely at disadvantaged populations.

Backdrop for Bush?

As they have in every year of his Administration, Congressional8Democrats criticized Mr. Reagan's budget for increasing defense spending while cutting domestic efforts.

Some aides said last week that the budget was receiving little serious consideration because "it's George Bush's plan that really counts.''

But several education advocates warned against dismissing the budget too quickly.

"This clearly provides the backdrop against which the Bush proposals will be viewed," said Michael Edwards, manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association. "Many of the proposals may end up being trial balloons, or Bush may just send up a broad outline rather than specific changes."

"One can assume that, whatever is said, George Bush had some input into this budget," Mr. Edwards argued, noting that the education portion was shaped by "a continuing secretary of education."

Ms. Frost voiced the prevailing sentiment in Washington, that some of the budget's cuts were made particularly deep so that Mr. Bush could appear magnanimous by moving partially to restore them.

But she cautioned that "he could just tack on some of the initiatives he was talking about during the campaign and leave everything else alone."

Tensions With Congress

Observers in the education community and on Capitol Hill agreed that it is impossible to predict how the budget deliberations will play out this year.

Speaker of the House Jim Wright, Democrat of Texas, has vowed that the Congress would keep to its budgetary schedule. But some observers say the process could bog down in a battle between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush, who has promised to reduce the deficit without raising taxes.

A deadlock could lead to automatic cuts under the sequestration provisions of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law. Such a development would severely penalize education and other discretionary domestic spending.

"All the easy things have been done, and I fear we may be headed for a sequester," Ms. Frost warned.

While a "summit" meeting between Congressional leaders and the White House is possible, she added, "I'm afraid they would go for the same pot of money and our programs will contribute to deficit-reduction again."

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