Delay of Stimulus Bill in Senate Worries School Officials
WASHINGTON--School district and other local government officials were anxiously biding their time last week as Congress began a two-week recess after Senate Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster of President Clinton's $16.3 billion plan to rouse the economy.
A spokeswoman for George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Senate Majority Leader, said last week that Mr. Mitchell was "consulting with his colleagues'' about what portions of the bill might have to be dropped in order appease its critics, who say it is ill-conceived and too expensive.
The bill includes $1 billion for summer jobs for teenagers and young adults; $500 million each for summer Chapter 1 and Head Start programs; $235 million in extra Chapter 1 aid to districts that will lose money due to the use of 1990 census data; $300 million for childhood immunizations; and $15 million for a national-service summer program.
Early speculation about what may be left out of the bill has centered on a provision to spend $1.86 billion to alleviate the Pell Grant shortfall in the current fiscal year. That prospect has public school lobbyists nervous, because spending for other education programs may have to be cut if the stimulus bill, HR 1335, does not take care of the problem.
"As of right now we're very concerned that we're on the chopping block, but I don't know if we're on the chopping block,'' said Richard A. Kruse, the director of governmental relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the president of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella group that lobbies Congress.
"This is something that we have to watch very, very closely,'' he said.
In the meantime, local government officials say the delay in the bill's progress and the continuing uncertainty about its final shape put them in the tough position of having to lay plans for summer education, employment, and service programs that conceivably could end up on the cutting-room floor.
This week, for example, the Education Department is holding a conference for local Chapter 1 officials on the summer programs that would be authorized under the bill.
The department also recently notified states of their anticipated allocations under the measure. An agency spokesman said the department parceled out the still-hypothetical money using a formula that channels dollars to the most needy areas.
Local education and social-service-program officials said last week that they are proceeding with caution.
"We're actually planning now on there being an economic-stimulus package,'' said Bill Withlow, the manager of technical and support services for Houston's youth-jobs program. "If it doesn't come through, we'll have an awful lot of disappointed kids out there.''
Mr. Withlow said he expects that the bill would allow his city to expand job placements for youths to about 14,000. But because of the uncertainty, the city has not announced that more jobs will be available.
"We would like to see something done one way or another so that we can complete our planning cycles, complete our procurement cycles, and get the show on the road,'' he said.
Mr. Withlow's observations were echoed by Judy Whitten, who directs the Head Start program in Murray, Ky., and has begun planning for a summer program.
"It's been frustrating, and it may turn out to be that our time would be better spent [on something else]'' she said.
Ms. Whitten said her program could be up and running by mid-June if the money becomes available by the middle of this month. But any further delays will cause problems in developing a high-quality program, she said.