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Congress Nears Final Approval of $28.8 Billion E.D. Budget

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WASHINGTON--Congress last week neared final approval of a fiscal 1994 social-services spending bill that includes $28.8 billion for Education Department programs.

The House approved the conference report on HR 2518, the appropriations bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments by a 331-to-115 vote. The Senate was expected to approve the $261.2 billion conference agreement this week.

House and Senate conferees earlier had agreed to grant $24.3 billion for discretionary education programs for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Of that amount, $250 million will go toward a shortfall, currently estimated at $1.2 billion, in the Pell Grant program.

The House version of the bill called for $28.6 billion for Education Department programs, while the Senate measure contained $28.8 billion.

Education Department programs over all received slightly more than the Senate's proposed bill as a result of a move by the appropriations committees to increase the amount of money available to the Labor-H.H.S.-Education bill by $300 million. (See Education Week, Oct. 6, 1993.)

The conference agreement calls for transferring to the Pell Grant shortfall the $105 million in the bill for President Clinton's "goals 2000: educate America act'' and the $20 million for the "safe-schools initiative'' if the legislation is not enacted by April 1. Goals 2000 is set to go to the House floor this week. (See story, page 22.)

The Administration's new school-to-work initiative received far less than the $270 million the President requested. But conferees backed the higher Senate figure, granting $100 million to be divided equally betweeen the Labor and Education departments.

Some nonbinding education-related amendments approved by the Senate were struck in conference, including one that said that, by 2003, education funding should represent 10 percent of the total federal budget. Education programs currently account for 2 percent of the budget.

The second amendment asked the Education Department to draft a plan within six months to consolidate programs in accordance with the National Performance Review.

A total of eight relatively small Education Department programs were eliminated in the bill, including educational partnerships and the student literacy and mentoring corps.

'As High as They Could'

Education lobbyists said the conference produced fair numbers in light of the tight spending caps members faced.

"It seems they went as high as they could on programs, considering the budget constraints,'' said Richard A. Kruse, the president of the Committee for Education Funding. "They could not do all that had to be done.''

Impact aid, which was one of the areas the Administration had slated for the heaviest cuts, did well, emerging with $109 million more than the Administration had requested.

"This is one of the largest increases we've had in a long time,'' said John B. Forkenbrock, a lobbyist for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools. Mr. Forkenbrock said that, although no money was appropriated in HR 2518 to help districts that would lose revenue as a result of base closures, those districts in California, Arkansas, Michigan, and New Hampshire may receive up to $8 million from the Defense Department appropriations bill.

The Chapter 2 block-grant program saw a large cut, receiving some $41 million less than the Administration had requested.

Edward R. Kealy, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, said those cuts do not bode well for school restructuring.

"Unless that's corrected by Congress with new legislation or new appropriations, I don't see how school reforms, like goals 2000, will succeed,'' Mr. Kealy said.

Conferees agreed to maintain the maximum Pell Grant award at $2,300. While both the House and Senate had allocated the same amount for the Pell Grant program, the House bill included a maximum grant of $2,250. The disparity was the result of a revision by the Education Department in its estimates on the number of eligible students.

Although the conference report technically provides the final funding for the Education Department, cuts in its spending levels are possible as a result of a measure the White House plans to send this month to rescind, or cancel, appropriations passed by Congress. Cuts from overall fiscal 1994 allocations may total as much as $10 billion.

"I know the education community is going to be very upset if education programs fall victim to the deficit-reduction hysteria,'' Mr. Kealy said. "This Administration came into office talking about investments--I hope they remember that.''

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