Congressional Panels Poised To Boost E.D. Funding
Washington--The time is ripe for a substantial increase in federal spending on schools, members of both the House and Senate education-appropriations subcommittees argued last week during their opening round of hearings on the Bush Administration's proposed $24.1-billion budget for the Education Department.
Lawmakers of both parties echoed the sentiments of Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who said that "we really ought to be allocating more of the federal budget to education."
Rapid political changes in Eastern Europe in recent months have provided a historic opportunity to enhance the federal role in funding education, others argued.
"This is the time, more than at any time in the last 20 years, when more money should be put into education," said Representative William H. Natcher, who chairs the House subcommittee on education spending.
The Kentucky Democrat said he would attempt to add as much as $2 billion to the education budget to fund improvements in Chapter 1 and Pell Grants.
In response to a question from Mr. Natcher, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos also identified4those programs as priorities for the education budget.
But much of Mr. Cavazos's testimony before both panels was devoted to assuring skeptical lawmakers that the budget submitted by President Bush for fiscal 1991 was an appropriate federal response to the nation's educational needs.
Because educators have refused to restructure the educational system, Mr. Cavazos argued, "I'm not convinced that by adding more and more dollars into the system we're going to change it."
He conceded, however, that the department initially had requested an additional $2.3 billion, which was cut by the Office of Management and Budget.
Under the Administration's proposed budget, education spending would increase over all by $500 million in fiscal 1991, or 2.1 percent--an increase that is slightly less than half the projected rate of inflation.
Mr. Cavazos pointed out, however, that the proposed budget reflects an increase of 6.2 percent in discretionary programs, such as Chapter 1.
Mr. Cavazos said the total amount sought by the Administration is compatible with the goals for educational improvement laid out last month by President Bush in his State of the Union Message.
But Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, brushed aside the argu8ment that the federal share of education spending represents only a relatively minor portion of the $353 billion the nation will spend on education this year.
"The Administration's rhetoric ignores the fact that the federal government is the major player in many critical areas of education," he said.
Senator Harkin also joined other lawmakers who described the Administration's proposed increases for the Chapter 1 program as inadequate.
Mr. Cavazos pointed out that Chapter 1 funds would increase by approximately $366 million, or 9 percent, under the budget request. Moreover, he said, the Chapter 1 program had already increased by almost 14 percent last year.
But Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, responded that the bulk of that increase came at the urging of the Congress, not the Administration.
And others argued that requested funding for a program included in the President's Educational Excellence Act has inflated the proposed increase for Chapter 1.
Representative Louis Stokes, Democrat of Ohio, for example, questioned whether it was appropriate to include in the Chapter 1 budgetary account the $225 millionsought for the Presidential Merit Schools program.
But Daniel Bonner, the department's acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, argued it was proper to include in the Chapter 1 account money for schools "that are making inroads under difficult circumstances."
Lawmakers also argued that the proposed increases do not make up for the decline of federal support for education under President Reagan.
"The Administration that preceded this one, of which this President was a part, sounded retreat in seven out the eight budgets it submitted," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland.
Under questioning from Senator Harkin, Secretary Cavazos conceded that in 1980 the federal share of education spending constituted approximately 9 percent of the nation's education spending--compared with about 6 percent today.
Senator Harkin said that because states and local school systems are financially squeezed and unable to raise the revenues they need to improve their programs, the federal government should play a greater role.
"I have looked in vain for years now where it is written in stone that education should be primarily funded from property taxes," he said.
Lawmakers also questioned the Administration's proposal to cut student-aid spending by 12.6 percent.
"I want to know why postsecondary education, particularly student assistance, is the orphan of this budget," said Representative Silvio O. Conte, a Massachusetts Republican.
But Charles E.M. Kolb, the department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, argued that the cuts were possible as a result of projected reductions in interest rates.
Mr. Cavazos also described the cuts as an effort to balance the competing interests of precollegiate and postsecondary education.