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E.D. Spending Seen Tempting Budget-Cutting Target

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Washington

A mechanism Congress adopted decades ago to allow schools more time to plan their budgets may cost them dearly this year, lawmakers indicated at a hearing last week.

With Republicans in charge, Congress is looking for ways to cut the budget for fiscal 1995, which began Oct. 1. And the Education Department is a tempting target because most of its programs are forward-funded, meaning that money is spent late in the budget cycle.

"I suspect that members will see it as a target because there is a great deal more time that notice can be given," said Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Mr. Porter's comments followed a hearing the subcommittee held to discuss education cuts that could be included in a fiscal 1995 rescission bill.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley urged lawmakers not to penalize education because of its funding process. "I know everyone is hunting for money now, but there is a reason for forward-funding, and that is to help schools plan ahead," he said.

While most education funding is not spent in the year it is appropriated, Mr. Riley said that most of the $25.1 billion allotted to the agency's discretionary programs for fiscal 1995 will be committed after April 1 for use in the 1995-96 school year.

Mr. Porter has said there is still no savings target for the rescissions package and no firm deadline for assembling it.

Goals 2000 Targeted

But the danger posed to education programs by the rescission plan was highlighted by the presence at the hearing of Rep. Robert L. Livingston, R-La. In a lively exchange following Mr. Riley's testimony, the powerful new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee took particular aim at the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the concept of national academic standards.

He said the Goals 2000 program appears to impose federal control over local schools. "I'm concerned that not everyone views Goals 2000 as you do, as a model for how government money flows to states," Mr. Livingston told the Secretary.

In defense, Mr. Riley noted that the program, which received $400 million in 1995, provides open-ended education-reform grants to states that agree to set their own content and performance standards.

"We put the money there, and state and local schools decide how to use this," Mr. Riley said.

The Goals 2000 law also created a process for adopting voluntary national standards, and Mr. Livingston took jabs at the controversial standards that have been proposed in history. He cited criticism that the standards push a liberal agenda and asked why the department spent $860,000 to help develop them. (See related story )

Because the history standards have been so controversial, Mr. Livingston suggested, perhaps federal involvement in standards "should be killed in the cradle."

Mr. Riley said that the decision to help fund the projects was made under the Bush Administration by(See Education Lamar Alexander and Lynne V. Cheney, who was then the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both have denounced the recently released history standards.

Defending Standards

Mr. Riley also told Mr. Livingston that he appeared to have been given "misinformation"about the content of the standards and defended the idea of voluntary academic standards.

"~I submit that it is healthy for this country to know what young people should be learning," he said.

Later in the hearing, General Accounting Office officials urged lawmakers to eliminate 21 of 22 categorical programs--funded at $418 million in fiscal 1995--that President Clinton had proposed cutting last year. Mr. Riley would not say if the cuts will reappear in the department's proposed budget for fiscal 1996.

Other options presented by the G.A.O. included groups of programs--such as several designed to increase minority presence in higher education--that could be merged to save some $1.16 billion.

Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the ranking Democrat on the panel, said that G.O.P. plans to eliminate campus-based aid programs, such as work-study, would hurt middle-class students and asked Mr. Riley to estimate losses to each Congressional district.

Republicans say $9.6 billion could be saved in five years by cutting half of the campus-based aid funding while diverting the other half to Pell Grants. Mr. Riley said about 2.5 million students would lose assistance.

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