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House Budget Seen Backing Education Funding Hike

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Washington--When House Budget Committee members meet this week to hammer out a budget resolution for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, they are expected to endorse an increase in education spending much greater than that proposed by President Bush, according to committee documents and sources.

But the size of the increase may not be as significant as that proposed by the budget committees last year, sources say, because of spending caps imposed on the Congress by the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990.

"Any way you look at it, it's going to be rough sledding," a House appropriations aide said. "There's just not much money to be had."

In February, President Bush unveiled a budget proposal that includ0 ed $29.6 billion for Education Department programs, a 9.2 percent increase over this year's $27.1 billion. (See Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991.)

In recent weeks, the House budget panel and its Senate counterpart have mulled over several spending scenarios, including one that calls for a $3.1-billion increase for education programs proposed by Representative William D. Ford, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee.

Education lobbyists have sought Congressional support for Mr. Ford's "homefront budget initiative" and for a similar proposal in the Senate being pushed by Tim Wirth, Democrat of Colorado.

Mr. Ford's plan, which includes a total of $4.4 billion in proposed spending increases, includes a $1.1-billion hike in such student-aid programs as Pell Grants and trio; an $800-million increase for employment- and competitiveness-related programs; and a 0 $2.5-billion increase that targets such programs as Head Start, Even Start, and Chapter 1.

The Wirth plan, which also carries a $4.4-billion price tag, includes a $1.1-billion increase in student aid; a $600-million increase in employment- and competitiveness-related programs; a $2-billion increase for programs targeting the disadvantaged; and a $700-million increase for health and social-services programs for children.

Late last week, about 80 representatives had signed a letter to House Budget Committee members in support of such increases; a similar letter is circulating in the Senate.

An aide to Representative Leon E. Panetta, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Budget Committee, predicted, however, that the committee's resolution would not call for a $3.1-billion increase in education-program funding.

Education advocates can expect the increase, the aide said, to be between $1 billion and $3 billion, more than the $775 million boost for discretion ary programs that Mr. Bush has re quested. Head Start programs will also be increased above President Bush's request, the aide predicted.

Resolution Seen as Guide

The development of a budget resolution is just one of a number of steps in the budget process before the Congress and President Bush agree on spending bills for the next fiscal year.

House and Senate appropriations committees began holding hearings in the weeks after Mr. Bush released his spending plan. They expect to mark up appropriations bills next month and in June, after the Con gress passes a budget resolution.

The resolution will be used by members of the appropriations committees as a guide for determining the actual amounts certain programs will receive in the next budget year.

Because of budget-process changes resulting from the 1990 budget agree ment, House and Senate appropriations committees do not need to wait for an approved resolution before marking up an appropriations bill. But the budget committees, by putting forth a resolution early in the session, can use it to influence the appropriations process, Congressional aides noted.

Among the programs that House Democrats favor for funding in creases are Pell Grants, Chapter 1, handicapped education, and historically black colleges and universities, according to a House Budget Com mittee document from mid-March.

Block-Grant Proposal

The document also said the com mittee "will reject" Mr. Bush's pro posal to establish a $15-billion social-services block-grant program that he said should include several education programs.

Instead, the committee will con sider a block-grant plan to be put forth by the National Governors' Association.

The n.g.a. plan, along with a proposal from the National Conference of State Legislatures, is set to be re leased this week. The two organizations have been working together to develop block-grant proposals, but each group wanted to present its own plan.

N.g.a. and n.c.s.l. officials delined to detail their block-grant proposals, but said they will not resemble Mr. Bush's. The President suggested $22 bil lion in social-service programs, including $1.8 billion in education programs, that could be included in the block grant. He urged the Congress and the governors to propose their own lists of programs worth a total of $15 billion.

Education advocates blasted the President's proposal, noting that most of the education programs targeted for inclusion in the block grant--impact aid, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, library aid, and the Chapter 2 block grant--have been on the Administration's "hit list" for years.

The advocates, as well as some governors and members of the Congress, said they feared the plan is really an effort to reduce spending and kill programs the Administration dislikes.

N.G.A., N.C.S.L. Plans

N.g.a. and n.c.s.l. officials work ing on the proposal said their respec tive block-grant plans will include programs that are state administered, not those in which federal dol lars flow directly to school districts, such as Chapter 1. "We started from square one in stead of looking at what programs have outlived their usefulness, like the President did," said Susan Greene, a senior policy analyst with the n.g.a.

She said that more Education Department programs will likely be in cluded in the proposals, and that governors are willing to embrace "flexibility in exchange for accountability."

A source working on the n.c.s.l. proposal said Chapter 2, vocational- education, adult-education, and math and science programs are included in both proposals.

Chapter 1 is on neither list, and Head Start is on the n.g.a. list, but not on the n.c.s.l. list, the source said. Officials with the organizations were trying late last week to determine whether to propose one comprehensive block grant for educaL0 tion programs or three block grants divided into three categories--school readiness, the school years, and adult education.

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