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Final Bush Budget Proposes 10% Hike In Spending for Education Programs

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WASHINGTON--President Bush last week transmitted to Congress budget projections for fiscal 1994 that suggest that Education Department programs be funded at a total of $33.5 billion.

That is $3 billion more than Congress appropriated for fiscal 1993, and represents an increase of 10 percent. In his final fiscal message, Mr. Bush said that would equal the average annual percentage increase, including mandatory programs, in Education Department spending since he took office in 1989.

The budget report includes recommendations for general program areas, such as compensatory education and vocational education, based on the average annual increase in those areas between fiscal 1989 and 1993. It does not make detailed proposals for specific programs.

The document indicates, however, that the President probably would not have requested such large increases had he been re-elected.

For example, while impact aid and campus-based student financial aid are slated for increases, Mr. Bush suggests elsewhere in the document that the programs are not cost efficient and should be trimmed. Both the Reagan and Bush administrations regularly sought cuts in those programs, and were usually rebuffed by Congress.

A Final Call for Choice

Federal law does not require Mr. Bush to submit a formal budget for the coming fiscal year before he leaves office next week.

Instead, the 573-page document he presented to Congress contains a review of current funding policies, a digest of major legislation enacted during his Presidency, a list of proposals Congress declined to enact, future budget projections, recommendations for controlling discretionary and mandatory spending, and assessments of management problems in government agencies.

The document, prepared by Richard G. Darman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, offers insight into the outgoing President's philosophy toward federal education funding.

It reiterates the Administration's argument that Mr. Bush's proposal to provide poor families with educational vouchers represents the kind of restructuring and innovation needed in education. While the maintenance of a strong public school system is important, the document says, it is more important to allow students from families in all income ranges a choice of where to go to school.

Perhaps the federal government's most critical role is leadership, the document suggests, and the size of the education budget "signals to the nation the commitment of the federal government.''

Nevertheless, it urges, increased spending must be accompanied by policy changes in the areas of standards, assessment, and choice.

'A Major Funding Priority'

Saying that "education was clearly a major funding priority,'' the document notes that spending on education programs rose by 33 percent between fiscal 1989 and 1993.

Highlighted as continuing priorities are such programs as compensatory education, with a recommended increase of $780 million; Pell Grants, with an increase of $508 million; education for the disabled, with an increase of $380 million; and vocational education, with an increase of $83 million.

The document also suggests numerous ways to save money in the main federal student-loan program. The changes include requiring students to pay interest while they are in school and raising the interest rate once they leave school, reducing subsidies to lenders, making institutions share more of the loan risk, and tightening the needs analysis for aid.

Mr. Bush's report also highlights several "high risk'' areas within the Education Department, including management of the student-aid program, its ability to produce reliable financial reports, and its monitoring of the money it distributes.

In addition, Mr. Bush called on Congress and President-elect Bill Clinton to continue the kind of budget-process reform initiated in 1990 with the Budget Enforcement Act.

Under the 1990 law, Mr. Clinton must submit a budget to Congress by Feb. 1. But most observers expect him to miss the deadline. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1992.)

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