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Bush's $29-Billion E.D. Budget Falls Short, Advocates Say

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Washington--President Bush last week unveiled a $1.45-trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 1992 that includes $29.6 billion for Education Department programs.

That figure represents a 9.2 percent increase over last year's $27.1 billion. But the increase proposed for discretionary programs is only $775 million, a 3.5 percent boost that does not equal the rate of inflation.

And $690 million of that would be earmarked for new Administration initiatives, most of which would reward schools for improved student performance and districts for establishing parental-choice policies. (See related story on page 1.)

The remaining $1.75 billion in increased spending was requested for entitlement programs, which the government must fully fund. The budget for the largest of them, the $5.8-billion Guaranteed Student Loan program, was artificially boosted by $1.6 billion this year as a result of new accounting procedures that required officials to include future costs of the loans.

Acting Secretary of Education Ted Sanders sought at a news conference last week to tie the budget to the national education goals set last year by the President and the National Governors' Association.

The spending plan is designed, he said, "to address our educational problems by rewarding excellence, by encouraging innovation, by increasing flexibility, and by eliminating waste."

But education advocates, lawmakers, and Congressional aides almost universally termed the President's education budget "disappointing."

"Many of us were impressed by the establishment of the national education goals; we were impressed by George Bush's promise to be the education president," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Democrat from Massachusetts who is chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. "But we don't see any indication of it in his budget priorities."

Education supporters particularly questioned Mr. Bush's decision to emphasize new legislation at the expense of more established programs.

The Chapter 1 remedial-education program, for example, would receive only a nominal increase of $125 million under the President's plan.

Even the Head Start preschool8program, which the President has repeatedly promised to expand, was allotted only a 5 percent, $100-million increase that barely outstrips the inflation rate. In fact, some education advocates say the hike would not be enough to include any additional children in the program.

"I'm not surprised by the bottom line," said Edward R. Kealy, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association and the current president of the Committee for Education Funding. "But I didn't expect it to be so tight on the currently funded programs."

Critics also denounced the President's plans to revamp federal student-aid programs, charging that he had pitted the poor against the working class.

The proposed budget includes a $400-million increase for Pell Grants, in accordance with the Administration's proposal to increase the total dollars available and the annual maximum grant while directing more of the money to students from families with incomes under $10,000.

Aides noted that the new proposals are unlikely to be enacted in time to be included in the budget for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

The budget contains relatively few cuts, but does rehash some perennial proposals to slash or eliminate programs that the Congress has rejected virtually every year since 1980.

Programs that would get the ax in the Administration budget include impact aid payments for "b" children, or students whose parents live or work on federal property; several small school-improvement and scholarship programs; highly-subsidized Perkins student loans; college work study; library assistance; and the school asbestos-abatement program, which is run by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Administration is not repeating a proposal to cut funding for the National School Lunch Program by eliminating subsidies to schools for students who are not poor. It would be level-funded at $4.3 billion.

But the President is proposing that students receiving reduced-price lunches pay 15 cents per meal instead of the 40 cents per meal they now pay.

That would save families as much as $45 a year for each eligible student. Costs would be absorbed by students who receive "paid" lunches, at an annual family cost of no more than $11.

Students who receive fully subsidized lunches would not be affected.

Kevin Dando, legislative-affairs specialist for the American School Food Service Association, called the proposal "a big step forward." But he said the program "seems to be catering to poor students. We think the program is for all students."

"The Administration assumes fewer students will drop out of the 'paid' category than we think," he said, "and they assume more students will join the program than we think."

Some of the programs Mr. Bush seeks to cut--impact aid, library aid, and supplemental student loans--were also recommended, along with Chapter 2 education block grants, as prime candidates for a proposed social-service block-grant program that would be administered by the states.

Chapter 2 would be cut from $469 million in the current fiscal year to $463 million in fiscal 1992.

Many programs, including vocational education, would be frozen at 1991 levels, while others, such as bilingual-, Indian-, and adult-education programs, would receive only nominal increases.

One of the largest increases was proposed for research programs, an area the Reagan and Bush administrations have consistently sought to upgrade. The $32-million hike requested this year would be devoted primarily to activities supporting the attainment and measurement of progress toward the national education goals.

The 20 percent hike for research includes a 46 percent increase for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is scheduled to complete its second trial assessment allowing state-by-state data comparisons in fiscal 1992. The second trial would include reading as well as mathematics.

Mathematics- and science-education grants would increase 18 percent, from $213.7 million to $253.7 million.

The $125-million increase proposed for Chapter 1--which pales in comparison with the $850-million boost it received in the current fiscal year--would not be evenly distributed.

Most of it would be earmarked for concentration grants, which target counties or school districts with at least 6,500 students living in poverty or with poor students making up a minimum of 15 percent of the school-age population.

The Even Start program, which coordinates early- and adult-education efforts, would rise to $60 million in fiscal 1992, up from $49.8 million in fiscal 1991 and $24.2 million in fiscal 1990. Funding for research and technical assistance to school districts would also increase.

But other Chapter 1 components, including basic grants, would be frozen at 1991 levels, and the Chapter 1 handicapped program would be cut by $23 million.

The Administration has again proposed moving that program to the special-education account, an idea the Congress rejected last year.

Other special-education programs would receive a $110-million, or 4.3 percent, increase.

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