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Education Advocates Brace To Battle Budget Cuts

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Education and child-welfare advocates are bracing for an assault on entitlement, student-loan, and crime-prevention programs targeted for billions of dollars in cuts under the "Contract With America," the election pact signed by more than 300 g.o.p. House candidates and incumbents.

Republicans leaders say the contract's 10 sweeping proposals will be introduced as legislation on the opening day of Congress.

They contend that the bills--which would cut taxes, balance the budget, and protect defense programs from cutbacks--reflect a voter mandate for smaller, less expensive government.

Critics argue the Republicans' numbers do not add up to a balanced budget without deep across-the-board spending cuts, and say the proposed welfare changes are cruel and extreme.

The education and child-welfare communities will be watching four of the bills closely:

The proposed "fiscal-responsibility act," which calls for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and a Presidential line-item veto.
The proposed "taking-back-our-streets act," which would repeal sections of the crime bill enacted this year that authorize $5.3 billion for crime prevention.
The proposed "personal-responsibility act," which would prohibit welfare payments to mothers under 18 and cap welfare spending.
The proposed "family-reinforcement act," which would require parental consent for a child to participate in federally funded surveys on such topics as sexual behavior, household income, or religious beliefs.

"The direction we want to take education is out of federal hands and to local and state levels," said Barry Jackson, who directed the effort to draft the contract for the Republican National Committee.

"It was not the founding fathers' intent to have education under the purview of the federal government," he added.

Pressure To Act

Some of the g.o.p.'s proposals are not new, but they have never been backed by the kind of muscle Republicans will have next year, when they will take control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years. However, some Republican moderates, particularly in the Senate, have indicated that they will not support the contract's entire agenda.

"I'm expecting the worst and hoping for the best," said Michael Pons, a policy analyst for the National Education Association. "I hope some sense of moderation will prevail."

David Boaz, the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank, noted that Republicans promised a vote on the contract, not its passage.

"I think there will be a lot of pressure to act on the contract," Mr. Boaz said. "Their out is that they only have to vote."

Education advocates maintain, however, that it would be foolhardy to underestimate the threat the Republicans' contract may pose to education programs.

For example, a House Budget Committee analysis estimates that if the entire g.o.p. plan were enacted, it would fall $700 billion short of balancing the budget by 2000.

A 30 Percent Budget Cut?

To make up the difference--excluding Social Security and defense programs from cuts, as the Republicans have promised--would require a 30 percent reduction in spending on Medicare, education, and other non-defense programs, according to the Clinton Administration. If a balanced-budget amendment were passed and ratified by the states, it would put further pressure on the budget.

Republicans argue that their tax and spending cuts will generate revenue by stimulating the economy and increasing personal savings.

"When you add it all up, there's not much left on the table," said Bruce Hunter, the senior associate executive director for external relations for the American Association of School Administrators.

Mr. Hunter argued that if the budget is to be cut, lawmakers should put "everything on the table."

One of the most emotional battles could take place over the proposed "personal-responsibility act."

"We're trying to tackle the illegitimacy problem and remove the incentive to go on welfare," said Brian Gaston, a House Republican Conference staff member who helped develop the bill.

The bill would prohibit welfare payments to unwed mothers under 18 and authorize states to deny benefits to unwed mothers under 21. It would also require unwed mothers to establish paternity to get benefits.

In addition, the bill would consolidate the food-stamp, child-nutrition, and women, infants, and children programs into a block-grant program and require states to build welfare programs around work requirements.

Finally, the bill would cap spending on most welfare programs and deny welfare benefits to legal aliens.

Five-year savings from the changes are estimated at $40 billion.

A Draconian Welfare Bill?

"I don't think people who wrote this have any idea what they put together," said David S. Leiderman, the executive director of the Child Welfare League of America, who maintained that there is no connection between welfare payments and the number of out-of-wedlock births.

"I can't believe there are not enough clear-thinking Republicans and Democrats to say this is not what we want to do to poor children," Mr. Leiderman said.

Higher-education advocates oppose a proposal to eliminate federal subsidies that pay interest on student loans while a student is in college. The move would help offset tax cuts by saving $9.6 billion over five years but would increase the average debt for a student with four years of federal loans by 17 percent.

The g.o.p. also proposes eliminating campus-based aid programs, such as work-study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, to save $2.87 billion. President Clinton has also proposed cutting some of these programs.

Children's groups are also worried about the Republicans' get-tougher approach to crime, which would slash prevention programs and increase criminal penalties and law-enforcement spending.

"If money is spent on prevention, the time will come when we don't need as many prisons," said Robert J. Baughman, the executive director for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which opposes the move.

Mr. Baughman said critics who have labeled as "pork" such programs as midnight basketball are being unfair and "coldly political."

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