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Budget Greeted With Mixed Reviews, Predictions of Change

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WASHINGTON--As education organizations gave President Clinton's proposed 1994 budget a mixed reception, most observers here last week were predicting that Congress would make changes in the plan.

But while the education lobby may approve of some of those alterations, Congress may also be forced to cut education funding in response to new pressures on the federal budget.

Most education lobbyists were neither enthusiastic about nor sharply critical of the school-related provisions in the President's $1.5 trillion spending blueprint for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, which would raise discretionary Education Department spending by 5.6 percent. (See Education Week, April 14, 1993.)

Education groups did praise the large increase proposed for Head Start, but they expressed disappointment both about the overall level of education spending and some specific proposed cuts.

"What we would challenge the Administration and Congress to do is to take the recommendation the President has made to fully fund Head Start and then follow those disadvantaged children through the elementary and secondary schools and right on through college,'' 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.

The C.E.F., an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of some 100 education organizations, does not plan to issue a statement, however, and most lobbyists muted their criticism of the budget unveiled on April 8.

'Terrible Disappointment'

But other education-group officials were less reticent.

For example, Bruce Hunter, the senior associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, called the budget a "terrible disappointment.''

And higher-education lobbyists were particularly critical. They are concerned about Mr. Clinton's proposals to eliminate State Student Incentive Grants and to consolidate the campus-based aid programs--work-study, Perkins Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants--while reducing their total funding by $237 million.

College and university groups are also worried about the Administration's plans for Pell Grants, which include reducing the minimum award to $200 from $400, the level set by Congress last year in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; requiring all students from families earning more than $5,000 a year to make an unspecified contribution to their higher education; and restoring the Secretary of Education's authority to reduce Pell Grant awards without Congressional approval in case of a shortfall.

"We're facing one of the most disastrous years on record in regard to grant aid for students,'' said Richard F. Rosser, the executive director of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"We've tried to be supportive until now,'' he said, "[but the budget is] forcing us to seriously question the commitment of [Mr. Clinton's] Administration to higher education.''

Education lobbyists have been divided in recent weeks over how vigorous they should be in challenging an Administration they consider basically sympathetic, but whose spending plans fall short of what many school groups had hoped for. (See Education Week, April 7, 1993.)

Some 'Rerouting' Predicted

Some observers said it will be difficult to improve on the proposed budget as it moves through Congress, since most members of the Democratic majority appear eager to support a President of their own party after 12 years of Republican administrations.

Still, even lobbyists who were reluctant to criticize President Clinton openly said they would urge appropriators to find more money for education programs--if necessary, at the expense of other parts of the budget, or of Mr. Clinton's new initiatives.

The President's initiatives are slated for the lion's share of his proposed $1.3 billion increase in discretionary Education Department spending. Under his plan, the agency's discretionary programs would get a total of $24.5 billion in fiscal 1994.

Many observers predicted that at least some of the proposed spending would indeed be rerouted, due chiefly to Congressional reluctance to appropriate money for programs that are not written into law.

"I have trouble imagining them spending money on programs that aren't authorized,'' said Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association. "Conservatives worry about allocating money for programs they know nothing about, and advocates worry that this will take funds away from the 'tried and true' programs.''

As for the President's principal K-12 initiative, Administration and Congressional sources said last week that they had nearly wrapped up a compromise on Mr. Clinton's education-reform bill, which would fund a system of national standards and assessments and a grant program supporting state and local reform efforts. (See Capital Digest, this page.)

Most observers predicted the Administration would win relatively quick approval of the proposal, on which Mr. Clinton is proposing to spend $420 million next year.

However, the budget also includes funding for other new programs on which work is in less advanced stages, such as a "safe schools'' program and a school-to-work initiative.

Apprenticeship, Loan Proposals

Mr. Clinton has promised to propose a national apprenticeship program, but it is unclear whether it will be ready for consideration this year.

The budget documents indicate that officials are proposing to spend $270 million in 1994 on the apprenticeship plan, divided between the Education and Labor departments, without seeking new legislation.

Vocational educators are uneasy, meanwhile, since the Administration has proposed cuts in vocational programs and level funding for the Job Training Partnership Act youth programs at the same time.

"All we can do is assume that the Clinton Administration really hasn't taken a look at vocational education as far as forming a well-thought-out policy,'' said Dale Huddleson, a spokesman for the American Vocational Association.

Congressional aides and lobbyists also said they did not know when the Administration plans to introduce legislation embodying Mr. Clinton's proposal to allow young people to pay for college partially through community service, and what activities the Administration hopes to fund in 1994. The budget includes $380 million to launch the program.

It is also unclear whether the Administration needs new legislation to begin phasing in a direct-loan program for college students. Congress approved a pilot program in the H.E.A. reauthorization.

Mr. Clinton has proposed replacing the current loan system--in which private lenders make loans backed by federal guarantees--with direct loans, made by the government through colleges, by fiscal 1997. For 1994, the President is proposing $149 million for the program. About $776 million in new loan volume would be made available, and 252,000 students would participate, according to budget documents.

Outlook for Research

The budget also requests a $63.9 million, 42 percent increase for education research, statistics, and assessment, of which about $13 million would not be earmarked for a particular use. In addition, the Administration has proposed increasing the Secretary's Fund for Innovation, which contains entirely discretionary funds, by $12 million, to $40 million.

"It's encouraging that they want to spend more money on research and statistics, but what they want to do with it is murky,'' said Gerald Sroufe, the director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association.

Congress repeatedly refused to give Presidents Reagan and Bush large increases in research funding, due partly to fears that it would be used to support a conservative agenda, and partly to a preference for programs that provide direct services.

Congressional aides predicted that Mr. Clinton will fare better, but that lawmakers will not "just put the money on a stump,'' in the words of one appropriations aide.

"I think they will get more discretionary money than Bush ever had,'' John F. Jennings, the education counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee, said. "How much will depend a lot on what they tell us they intend to do with it.''

Competing Pressures

Even if lawmakers divert some funds from the Administration's initiatives, observers noted, it may not mean more money for programs like the Chapter 1 remedial-education program or for restoring cuts in college grants and impact aid.

The budget resolution already approved by Congress--which sets the broad parameters for next year's spending--includes additional spending cuts not accounted for in the Administration's budget. That means it would be impossible to meet all the President's requests.

In addition, some tax increases and programmatic changes assumed in the budget resolution may not come to pass, further restricting spending.

Finally, it appeared last week that $1.86 billion to offset Pell Grant shortfalls built up over the past few years might be removed from the controversial supplemental-spending bill for fiscal 1993, aimed at economic stimulus, that the President is striving to push through the Senate. (See related story, page 1.)

Senior Editor Lynn Olson and Staff Writer Mark Pitsch also contributed to this story.

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