Conferees Agree on $31.5-Billion Funding Bill for E.D.

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WASHINGTON--House and Senate conferees last week agreed to a $204.9 billion social-services spending bill for fiscal year 1992 that includes approximately $31.5 billion for Education Department programs.

The education figure represents an increase of about $4.4 billion for education programs over fiscal 1991, in which they received $27.09 billion.

Much of the increase, however, is attributable to accounting changes in the Guaranteed Student Loan program. Discretionary education programs would receive about a $1.7-billion increase under the bill.

After appropriations staff members iron out the final version of the bill--which may include some small changes--it will be taken up separately by the full House and Senate. Upon approval by the Congress, it will go to the President for his signature.

Conferees met several times over three weeks to reconcile the very different House and Senate bills without exceeding the $59.3 billion allocated by appropriators to the subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for discretionary programs in those three departments.

In their first pass through the bill, the conferees generally accepted the higher education marks included in the House bill and the higher health marks included in the Senate bill.

Discretionary Education Department programs were in line for a $2.1 billion increase when that stage of the conference was completed.

But the resulting bill exceeded the subcommittees' allocation by $814 million, and conferees were deadlocked for a week over how to pare the bill to meet their spending ceiling. (See Education Week, Oct. 30, 1991 .)

Breaking an Impasse

Representative William H. Natcher, the Kentucky Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee, proposed a package that would take $405 million from education programs, $228 million from health and social-service programs, and $35 million from the Job Training Partnership Act.

Also as part of his package, Mr. Natcher proposed that part of the money provided for a new child-care block grant in the fiscal year just ended be rescinded.

But Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is Mr. Natcher's Senate counterpart, proposed taking most of the $814 million from education programs, which he argued had received the lion's share of funding increases in the conferees' preliminary agreement.

He rejected the child-care rescission and some of Mr. Natcher's cuts in social-service programs, and favored bridging the remaining gap with an across-the-board cut.

At last week's session, Mr. Natcher agreed to take an additional $65 million from preliminary allocations for education programs, for a total of $470 million.

Mr. Natcher deflected attempts to further decrease the allocation for Chapter 1, and the rest of the shortfall was raised with cuts in other programs and by deferring spending for some programs--including $249 million in education funds--until the end of the fiscal year so that funds would actually be spent in the following fiscal year.

"You're talking about something I really believe in," Mr. Natcher said in arguing that funding for Chapter 1 not be decreased further.

Mr. Natcher also refused to take about $70 billion from Chapter 1 and other education programs to increase the amount set aside for new education programs.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, made the effort on behalf of Bush Administration officials, who hope they can win approval this year for their America 2000 reform strategy.

Mr. Natcher did agree, however, to include the $100 million that was provided as a separate line item in the bill if new programs are authorized, rather than allowing a transfer from Chapter 1, the procedure he had previously insisted upon.

If no new programs are authorized, the money would be distributed among formula-grant programs.

'Very Tough' Conference

In concluding remarks, Mr. Harkin, a 1992 Presidential candidate, noted that the conference was "very tough ," and he joined the increasing number of lawmakers calling for reconsideration of the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990.

"Unless we have a change in our priorities in this country ... it's going to get worse than this," he said. "We're not poor, we're still the richest country in the world."

"It's time to take the budget agreement of last year and throw it on the scrap heap this year," Mr. Harkin said.

But Representative Carl D. Pursell, the Michigan Republican who is the ranking member on the House subcommittee, reminded Mr. Harkin that the nation's deficit is increasing.

Mr. Pursell also noted that the practice of delaying funding to the end of the fiscal year will tighten restraints on spending even further next year.

'We're Pleased'

Although conferees reduced their preliminary figures for some education programs, those programs generally fared well in a year that many observers expected to be a lean one. Almost all education programs are to receive more than they did in 1991 and more than the Administration requested.

"We're pleased that education and children's programs did receive a significant increase, and that the conference committee moved closer" to commitments lawmakers made in their budget resolution, said Edward R. Kealy, president of the Committee for Education Funding.

The conferees' agreement to pare their Chapter 1 allocation by about $250 million means that the compensatory-education program would receive about $6.76 billion, a $630-million increase over 1991.

Of that amount, $5.39 billion would be provided for basic grants to states, $596 million for concentration grants, and $70 million for Even Start, among other programs.

Other education reductions agreed to by the conferees include $5 million from a literacy program, $5 million from a supplemental student-aid program, $50 million of the $150 million that had been slated for new programs, and $150 million from vocational-education programs.

However, like Chapter 1, vocational programs would still receive an increase under the bill, from slightly more than $1 billion in 1991 to about $1.14 billion in 1992.

As has been the case in prior years, the only major area where the lawmakers provided less money than the Administration requested is education research.

Research and statistics programs would receive a total of $148.2 million under the bill--a $20-million increase, but $10.1 million less than requested. Half the increase would go to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Other Funding Levels

The bill would also provide:

  • $6.88 billion for student financial-aid programs, a $170-million increase from 1991.
  • $2.85 billion for special-education programs. That represents a $240-million increase, most of which would be allocated to state grants.
  • A $250-million increase for the Head Start preschool program, which is to receive $2.2 billion.
  • $772 million for impact aid, an $8-million decrease from fiscal 1991.

The Congress again rejected the Administration's perennial proposal to eliminate payments to "b" children, those youngsters whose parents either live or work on federal property, and payments for children served by the program would receive a small increase overall. But construction funding would be cut slightly, and disaster assistance would be eliminated.

  • $475 million for the Chapter 2 block grant, a $6 million increase.
  • $624 million for anti-drug programs, an increase of $18 million.
  • $225 million for bilingual education, up from $198 million in fiscal 1991.

Vol. 11, Issue 10, Pages 22, 25

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