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Alexander Finds Funding Source For School-Recognition Program

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WASHINGTON--Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has proposed financing this year's Blue Ribbon Schools competition from a $100-million fund set aside for new programs.

Funding for the popular recognition program was not included in the fiscal 1992 budget, and a furor erupted when the Education Department announced that this years competition would be canceled--after thousands of schools had already participated in a time-consuming screening process that yielded 477 finalists. (See Education Week, Jan. 15, 1992.)

Congressional sources said the decision was based not on opposition to the program, but on a lack of vocal support in a tight budgetary climate. However, while lawmakers are apparently willing to restore the funds, legislative and budgetary rules severely limit the sources from which such a funding transfer could come.

Mr. Alexander decided to tap the "educational excellence" fund--even though that money would support whatever portions of his America 2000 strategy are enacted--because the other options were more complicated and would have cut deeply into small programs, a spokesman said.

In a letter to lawmakers, the Secretary said that language governing the use of the excellence fund allows him to allocate the $885,000 needed for the recognition program without Congressional approval.

Congressional aides strongly disagreed, noting that the money is earmarked for existing formula-grant programs if nothing new is authorized by April 1.

House appropriators have agreed to the transfer, but they specified in their letter that they deem it a reprogramming request that requires their consent. An aide said they want to set a precedent in case new programs are not enacted and allocation of the excellence funds becomes an issue.

A Senate aide said appropriators would probably take up the issue this week.
--J.M.

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