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13 E.D. Programs Axed on Budget Chopping Block

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Eliminating funding for 13 Education Department programs this fiscal year was a political success that freed up $77 million--and is part of a trend that is likely to continue, one of the department's top budget officials says.

"It is very hard to improve program management when you have all of these categorical programs running around," said Sally H. Christensen, the director of the department's budget service and deputy assistant secretary for management and budget.

Twelve of the 13 programs that received no appropriations for 1995 were among 37 the Clinton Administration did not want funded.

Ms. Christensen said programs landed on the chopping block because they duplicate other efforts, are outdated, or focus on areas that are not an appropriate federal responsibility.

Many of the programs the Administration proposed to defund were cited as wasteful or outdated in the report on the Education Department issued by Vice President Gore's National Performance Review--as department officials often noted.

John M. Kamensky, the deputy director of the N.P.R, said reviews of other agencies did not, as a rule, recommend cuts.

But education programs, he said, were "crying out, saying these are really outdated and in need of change."

Erasing all 34 programs identified by the N.P.R.--nine of which were among those receiving no funding this year--would save about $515 million between 1995 and 1999, its report estimates.

Cutting 13 programs in one year is a lot by federal standards, Ms. Christensen pointed out.

17 Programs Added

Still, the Education Department actually saw a net gain because Congress added $188.7 million in funding for 17 new programs to the department's $27.4 billion budget, including $100 million for a school-facilities-construction program.

And elimination from the budget did not necessarily mean death. For example, while the Blue Ribbon Schools program was not included in the budget as a separate line item, the Administration had promised to continue it with discretionary money.

And two territorial-assistance programs that received no funding were nonetheless reauthorized as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, making future funding possible.

Some programs were continued even though the Administration mustered evidence of inefficiency or other problems.

For example, a Congressional report found that the number of Ellender fellowships, administered by the Close-Up Foundation to finance visits to Washington for low-income students, actually decreased as federal funding increased. It also found that more of the fellowships were going to teachers than students.

Nonetheless, the program received $4.2 million this year and was reauthorized in the E.S.E.A.

Perennial Targets

Some education advocates viewed it as an unpleasant surprise when the Democratic Administration targeted programs that had regularly showed up on Republican hit lists in earlier years.

"If it was also on the list for Presidents Reagan and Bush, was there a clear-cut strategy or was it just habit?" asked Susan Frost, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

The lobbyists were particularly surprised that the Administration proposed eliminating popular programs like subsidized Perkins student loans and State Student Incentive Grants, which match state student-aid funding.

In appropriating $221 million for these programs this year, Congress rejected the argument that an expanding direct-lending program--soon to include income-contingent repayment--would reduce the need for such grants.

"With grants, you put low-income students not on an even playing field, but closer to an equal opportunity as their middle-income counterparts," Ms. Frost said, predicting that 15 states would cut their student grants without the matching funds.

Carol C. Henderson, the executive director for the American Library Association's Washington office, said it was surprising that the Administration proposed eliminating library programs that would seem to jibe with its own priorities.

"We were disappointed because this is exactly the kind of activity that does fit into the Administration's information-superhighway initiative," she said.

Six library programs that received $43 million in fiscal 1994 were targeted for the ax. Four survived; two did not.

Ms. Christensen declined to predict which programs the Administration would propose no funding for in its fiscal 1996 budget, which is due in early February. But she said the Administration would propose consolidating some duplicative programs.

"You'll see drastic changes in programs--that's the real impact, targeting more money at reforms and really going after results," Ms. Christensen said.

But education lobbyists pointed out that the significance of the Administration's proposed cuts pales in comparison with a funding cap that fixes the roughly $542 billion pot available for federal discretionary spending. Last year, defense programs captured $255.4 billion of that pot, Ms. Frost noted.

She added: "Now if [the Administration] really wants to change priorities... ."

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