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Riley Defends Budget Plan as Lawmakers Pledge Cuts

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When Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley brought President Clinton's fiscal 1995 education budget to Capitol Hill last year, lawmakers told him, in regretful tones, that fiscal constraints would make it hard to provide as much funding as the Administration requested.

Last week, at the first hearing on the 1996 education budget, lawmakers delivered a similar message. But with Republicans now in control of the House and the Senate, the tone was unapologetic, and appropriators informed Mr. Riley that the $800 million in cuts he is proposing is not enough.

Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., said that the Administration's proposal--which would raise the Education Department's discretionary spending by 3.8 percent over all, to $24 billion--ignores Congress's cost-cutting "glide path toward a balanced budget."

"You're increasing and increasing," Mr. Miller said. "These numbers are not acceptable to the people who were elected last year."

At the hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Mr. Riley defended his $30.4 billion education-spending plan as an investment in America's future.

"To cut education is a short-term way of dealing with the deficit," he warned. "You will see the impact 10 years later in a less productive workforce."

He said his agency's proposal to cut some programs and eliminate funding for 68 others proves the department is becoming "high-performance, customer-focused."

Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the subcommittee, asked Mr. Riley about a proposal to merge the Education and Labor departments, which has been endorsed by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. Supporters claim the move would save $21 billion over five years. (See Education Week, Feb. 22, 1995.)

"I do not find any way in the world this would benefit American education," Mr. Riley said. "There would be no one Cabinet-level person really tuned in to education at the national level."

Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the Appropriations Committee's ranking Democrat, called the merger debate "silly." He added: "What you have is an ideological debate between people who should sit down and sweat out the details."

Mr. Porter said in an interview that he wants to hear all sides before expressing an opinion on the merger idea, but noted that he "would have to be convinced a bigger organization would be better."

Mr. Miller expressed skepticism about the department's predictions that it will save $12 billion by 2000 if it is allowed to expand the new direct-lending program, under which the government makes loans to students through their institutions, rather than guaranteeing conventional loans.

The Administration proposes to make 80 percent of new loans this way by 1997 and 100 percent by 1998, when it would like to entirely replace the older guaranteed-loan program. Some House Republicans want to slow the growth of the new program until its track record can be scrutinized.

Defending Goals 2000

Republican appropriators also criticized a proposed $347 million increase for the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Mr. Riley said the increase for grants to states that agree to adopt high academic standards is needed to maintain reform momentum in the 45 states that have signed on.

He called Goals 2000 "a responsible block grant," acknowledging the movement in the new Congress toward such programs. Administration officials resisted that characterization of Goals 2000 last year, when some Democrats opposed the bill creating the program on the grounds that it would do too little to insure that states engaged in meaningful reform.

Thomas M. Payzant, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the panelists that the Administration's proposed $7.4 billion in Title I compensatory-education spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1--a $219 million increase over 1995--would be targeted to give greater support to the neediest students and to schoolwide activities.

Some panelists suggested that ineffective local programs should be barred from future funding.

Mr. Porter said he did not want to pass judgement before hearings are completed, but praised Mr. Riley for the cuts included in his agency's 1996 spending plan.

"We have to get this federal budget under control, but we do want to support programs that work," Mr. Porter said.

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