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House Panel Approves $27.2 Billion in Spending for E.D. in '95

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Washington

While budgetary pressures prevented generous increases, the fiscal 1995 spending bill approved by a House appropriations subcommittee last week would direct a substantial share of available funding to President Clinton's new education initiatives at the expense of some established programs.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee last week passed by a voice vote a $252 billion bill that includes $27.2 billion for Education Department programs.

Discretionary education programs would receive $24.8 billion over all in the bill--$568 million, or 2.3 percent, more than in fiscal 1994. The current inflation rate is about 3 percent.

President Clinton proposed a 7 percent increase in discretionary spending over 1994 for education programs; the Education Department was one of the few to get a boost under his proposed budget for fiscal 1995, which begins Oct.1.

Appropriators tried to follow the President's priorities, although the panel was able to finance only about 35 percent of Mr. Clinton's proposed increases for Education Department programs, according to an aide to Rep. Neal Smith, D-Iowa, the subcommittee chairman.

In contrast, the subcommittee bill would actually cut several established programs--most notably vocational education, impact aid, and some special-education and student-aid programs--below their 1994 funding levels.

The subcommittee rejected many of the cuts that the President had proposed in his budget, although it did agree to eliminate funding for some smaller Education Department programs, such as the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching.

Nothing to Cheer About

"It's a budget that's hard to be ecstatic about because it's such a small overall increase,'' said Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith. "But we're pleased by the priorities they seemed to take.''

Appropriators are working under tight spending caps imposed under the 1993 deficit-reduction plan. Since May, when the Appropriations Committee divided the available money among its subcommittees, observers have known that budgetary constraints would make big increases in education spending virtually impossible. (See Education Week, June 8, 1994.)

But that did not forestall education lobbyists' disappointment.

"This is definitely worse than our expectations were,'' said Susan Frost, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

John B. Forkenbrock, the executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, observed that the appropriations process has become a zero-sum game. He likened lawmakers' shifting of funds to "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.''

Programs under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act would receive $388 million, $320 million below the President's request, but $283 million more than in fiscal 1994. The bulk of the money would be distributed in grants to support state and local reform efforts.

Lawmakers provided $280 million for the new School-to-Work Opportunities Act, 90 percent of the Administration's proposed increase. The money would continue to be split evenly between the Education and Labor departments.

Offsetting Cuts

Meanwhile, the bill would increase total special-education funding by less than 1 percent. While basic state grants and early-intervention programs would receive a $115 million hike, the Chapter 1 program for disabled students would be eliminated--as it would be under pending legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--and other programs would be level-funded or cut.

Similarly, basic vocational-education grants to states would be level-funded at $972.8 million, while spending on several smaller programs would be eliminated or cut, for a total savings of $23.6 million.

Many education lobbyists expressed disappointment with the panel's proposed funding level for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, which would receive a total of $7.2 billion--a $217 million increase, but $332 million below the Administration's request.

The scaled-back Chapter 1 funding "puts into question how serious Congress is about implementing the legislation that they've authorized,'' said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, noting that lawmakers are expected to make substantial changes in their pending E.S.E.A. legislation.

Head Start, which was recently reauthorized, would receive a $210 million hike under the subcommittee bill, while Mr. Clinton had requested a $702 million increase.

Because many education programs are likely to be restructured under the reauthorization, the spending bill listed only broad funding totals for some programs.

Contingency Planning

For example, the Administration proposed eliminating the Chapter 2 block grant and rolling its authorized funding into an expanded version of the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program.

Appropriators proposed a lump sum of $668 million--$47 million more than the 1994 appropriations for both programs--and indicated that they would recommend a division between the two accounts at a later date, should they remain separate.

For impact-aid programs, appropriators reserved a total of $728 million for 1995--$70 million less than provided this year and $22 million less than the Administration's request--but did not specify how the funds would be distributed, pending revisions under the E.S.E.A.

Discretionary student-aid programs would be cut a total of $62.7 million under the bill. The Pell Grant program would receive $6.2 billion, $146 million less than the Administration requested and $56 million less than this year--a reduction that aides said was prompted by new, lower estimates of the number of students who will need grants in the 1994-95 school year.

A $118 million appropriation would finally eliminate a longstanding shortfall caused by too-low estimates in earlier years.

In a move that angered higher-education lobbyists, the subcommittee included a provision to cap the number of students who could receive grants. Aides said this was done as a technical maneuver because otherwise savings due to the lowered estimates would not be "counted'' in determining whether the budget meets statutory caps.

The panel's bill also includes:

  • $158 million for bilingual-education programs--$9.5 million more than in 1994, but $7 million less than requested.
  • Nearly $162 million for education research and statistics, $6.1 million more than the current level, but $27.3 million less than Mr. Clinton requested.
  • $482 million for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, $10 million more than in 1994, but $177 million less than the President's proposal.

The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the bill this week. The Senate is planning to take up its spending bill next month.

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