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Senate Panel Approves 15.2% Hike in E.D. Funding

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Washington--A Senate Appropriations subcommittee last week approved a $176.3-billion social-services spending bill for the next fiscal year that includes $26.5 billion for Education Department programs, a 15.2 percent boost over current levels.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee voted particularly large increases for Chapter 1 and Pell Grants. But it would give special-education programs only a meager increase above 1990 levels--less than President Bush requested and far less than would be provided by the bill passed by the House in July.

The Senate bill would boost the department's funding in fiscal year 1991 by a total of $3.5 billion over this year's level. It surpasses the mark established by the House, which set aside $26.1 billion for education, $2.5 billion more than the President requested.

The Senate measure includes $4.54 billion for the Guaranteed Student Loan program, $640 million more than the House allocated. An entitlement, the program received such a boost from the Senate subcommittee because of a rise in interest rates and more pessimistic default estimates.

Without the gsl padding, the Senate bill totals $25.8 billion--which is still higher than Mr. Bush's request.

Those figures do not include funding for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act and some special-education programs, which are not yet reauthorized. While the House has not even assigned dollar figures to those programs, which last year amounted to $1.12 billion, the Senate subcommittee gave unauthorized programs a preliminary $1.21-billion pricetag, including $995 million for Perkins Act programs.

"We have some of the most pressing problems that face the federal government, so it's very hard to place priorities," said the subcommittee's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the subcommittee, said the decisions were made more difficult because the $50.4 billion members had to work with was $800 million less than that given to the corresponding House panel.

As budget negotiators neared agreement late last week on a package of tax hikes and spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit, Congressional budget schedules remained fluid and a full committee mark-up had not been scheduled.

Congressional leaders and Administration officials have been trying to compromise on measures that would cut $50 billion from next year's budget deficit and $500 billion over the next five years.

In a speech last week to a joint session of the Congress, Mr. Bush urged the lawmakers to reach a budget agreement soon and pass legislation embodying it by the end of the month.

"I am hopeful--in fact, I am confident--the Congress will do what it should," Mr. Bush said. "And I can assure you that we in the executive branch will do our part."

Richard G. Darman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has estimated the budget deficit for fiscal 1991 to be $170 billion, or $232 billion if the savings-and-loan cleanup is taken into account.

Should the negotiators fail to reach an agreement, and do not revise the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction target of a $64-billion deficit for 1991, the budget faces "sequesters," or across-the-board cuts, of more than 40 percent in October. That would mean slashing Education Department programs by $8.1 billion.

Meanwhile, education advocates said they were pleased with the Senate subcommittee's bill, especially since the panel had relatively little to work with.

The high numbers coming from both chambers should ease the blow to education funding if and when the budget ax falls, they said.

"Over all, it's a good bill," said Edward R. Kealy, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association. "It shows a strong commitment to increased investments in education, despite the environment where there are calls to cut the deficit."

Mr. Kealy and others expressed surprise at the closeness between the House and Senate bills. They credited Senator Harkin for showing his strongest support to date for federal education funding.

However, the Senate panel's allocation for grants to states for special education, $2.05 billion, is woefully inadequate, according to special-education advocates. They said the allotment pales in comparison with that passed by the House, $2.75 billion, and is barely more than last year's level of $2.02 billion.

The figure is "almost embarrassing," said John George, government-relations liaison for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

But Mr. George said he was pleased that the Senate broke from the House and provided separate funding for special-education programs under Chapter 1.

Over all, Chapter 1 compensatory-education programs would benefit greatly under the Senate bill. They would receive $6.37 billion--$250 million more than in the House bill, $900 million more than the President's request, and $1.16 billion more than last year's amount.

Most of the increase would come in grants to school districts, which would receive $5.7 billion, up from $4.76 billion in 1990.

Another big winner in the Senate bill was financial aid for college students. The subcommittee included $5.51 billion for Pell Grants, up from $4.80 billion last year.

The increase would allow the maximum grant of $2,300 to be boosted by $100. The House maintained the maximum grant at its existing level.

Not including Stafford loans, other aid programs would receive $6.88 billion, up from $6.08 billion last4year and slightly more than the $6.78 billion allotted by the House.

The subcommittee also gave a formidable increase, from $539 million to $646 million, to the drug-free-schools program. Mr. Bush asked for $593 million, and the House reluctantly alloted that much in response to sharp public criticism from the federal "drug czar," William J. Bennett.

The bill would also designate:

$491 million for Chapter 2 block grants, the same as in the House bill.

$197 million for bilingual and immigrant education, $8 million less than in the House bill and Mr. Bush's request.

$786 million for higher-education programs, $24 million more than the House allocation. The bill matches the House increase of $100 million for trio programs that aim to increase college enrollment and retention of disadvantaged students.

$140 million for research programs, including $5 million for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which was not included in the House bill. Authorizing such funding is expected to be one of the more controversial issues in negotiations on a pending omnibus education bill.

The Senate bill would provide only $5 million for activities related to national education goals, half of the House allotment and one-fourth of the President's request.

$2 billion for Head Start, which was not funded by the House because it had not been reauthorized. The allocation is $448 million more than last fiscal year's and $114 million more than the President's request.

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