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Education Budget Generally Received Well, But Critical Gaps Cited

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WASHINGTON President Bush's $32.3-billion education budget for fiscal year 1993 has gotten a comparatively positive reception on Capitol Hill and in the education community, where a decade of Republican budgets have routinely been declared "dead on arrival."

"As a starting point, this is probably the best budget we've seen in a long time," said an aide to Representative William H. Natcher, the Kentucky Budget tables, pages 24-25.

Democrat who chairs the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee.

However, while observers praised the $1.6-billion increase proposed for discretionary education programs-the largest such rise for any federal agency--they noted that the increase looks large only by comparison.

"Despite the publicized increases, the fact is overall education spending ... barely keeps up with inflation," Leon Panetta, the California Democrat who chairs the House Budget Committee, said in a statement.

Education advocates also noted that priorities within the budget are not significantly different than in previous Bush proposals, and they predicted that the Congress will radically reshuffle the budget's spending priorities and restore many of the cuts proposed by the Administration.

"The most innovative thing they did was to replace '1992' with '1993,'" said Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association.

An aide to Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Labor-H.H.S.-Education Subcommittee, noted that the budget includes more than $600 million in proposed cuts in education programs as compared with 1992 levels.

The cuts, most of which the Congress has rejected many times in previous years, include a $222-million reduction in impact aid, a $107-million cut from library programs, and the elimination of the $141-million Perkins Loan Program.

Numerous smaller programs, including the Chapter 1 rural program, the National Writing Project, and one related to women's educational equity, were proposed for elimination.

'Holes To Fill'

"These are the holes that we'll have to fill because everybody wants these programs," Mr. Harkin's aide said.

Observers also noted, however, that making up those deficiencies will not be easy this year.

The Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 includes tight spending caps for fiscal 1993, and does not allow lawmakers to fund domestic increases with cuts in defense programs.

The Congress worsened the situation by including in the fiscal 1992 budget more than $4 billion in delayed obligations that will have to be "counted" in fiscal 1993.

In addition, President Bush's budget projects the fiscal 1993 federal deficit will be $352 billion. Although the deficit does not trigger across-the board cuts under the Budget Enforcement Act, it may make Wall Street nervous, Mr. Natchefs aide said. In such a case, he said, the President's budget "will look very generous."

Mr. Bush has said that he would fight any defense cuts deeper than those he proposed, and that he would oppose changing the budget rules to allow transfers from defense to domestic programs.

But key lawmakers signaled last week that they will nonetheless seek to do just that, and most observers predicted that the Administration will eventually agree to negotiate.

"if ever there were a time to beat at least some of our swords into plowshares, that time is now," Mr. Panetta said. "I can assure you that Congress is going to find more unnecessary weapons programs where we can get additional savings."

Initiatives in Doubt

Observers also predicted that the Congress would not adopt any of the legislative initiatives President Bush included in his budget. (See Education Week, Feb. 5, 1992.)

For example, while President Bush proposed a $1.2-billion increase for Pell Grants, advocates said it is not enough to fund Iris proposal to increase the maximum Pell award from $2,400 to $3,700. They said Mr. Bush's plan would eliminate 438,000 students from Pell eligibility.

Congressional aides noted that a similar plan was part of the Administration's proposal for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which was not included in the H.E.A. bills awaiting floor action in the House and Senate. The pending bills would increase both maximum awards and the number of eligible students.

Noting that education-reform bills pending in the House and Senate bear only passing resemblance to Administration proposals, observers also said the Congress is highly unlikely to agree with the President's plan to spend $500 million on vouchers that could be spent at private schools, or to appropriate the $267 million requested for other parts of the Administration's America 2000 education strategy.

Observers also predicted that the Congress would not entertain the Administration's proposed changes in the impact-aid program until it is up for reauthorization next year.

In addition to repeating a perennial proposal to eliminate funding for so-called "B" students, those whose parents live or work on federal property, Mr. Bush also suggested limiting payments for "a" children, those who live on and have a parent who works on federal property.

Under the Administration plan, the government would make payments for only those students above 400 or 3 percent of a district's enrollment. The change would concentrate funds on more impacted districts.

John Forkenbrock, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, said Mr. Bush's proposal "stinks."

"Every year we have to go up to the Hill," he said, "and this year they're making it a lot steeper."

The President also revived a proposal to reduce the school-lunch and -breakfast subsidy for students with family incomes above 185 percent of the poverty rate, while decreasing prices for needier students.

But Kevin Dando, the legislative director for American School Food Service Association, said that many children would have to drop out of the program because of the added cost, and that schools might not have enough participants to continue the program.

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