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Senate Bill Would Cut $2 Billion in Education Aid

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Washington

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 1996 spending bill last week that would provide $1.5 billion more for federal education programs than a companion bill passed by the House last month.

But the $62.8 billion spending plan for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would still give the Education Department $2 billion less in discretionary funding than it had this year.

The Senate bill would provide more funding than the House plan for virtually every major education program. And it would keep alive the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Clinton Administration's signature education-reform program, which the House bill would eliminate. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)

"There is no higher priority in this country than education," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

That panel passed the bill by a voice vote Sept. 13. The full Appropriations Committee approved it 24-3 on Sept. 15. The bill is not expected to reach the Senate floor until next week.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a written statement that the bill is a "step in the right direction" but falls short of the funding needed to raise standards and student achievement.

There is still some room for bargaining. Once the Senate passes a bill, a conference committee will have to iron out differences between the two bills, and both chambers must approve a compromise before sending it to President Clinton.

It appears unlikely that lawmakers will be able to pass all of the 13 spending bills that fund the federal government by the beginning of fiscal 1996, which starts Oct. 1, and Mr. Clinton has threatened to veto many of them. Thus, negotiations are under way on a stopgap continuing resolution that would keep the government running past that deadline.

Goals 2000

The Goals 2000 program, which provides funding to 47 states for school-reform efforts, was a major focus of the debate last week.

The day before the subcommittee markup, Sen. Specter held a hearing on the program in an apparent effort to help justify his support. He suggested that making some legislative changes could appease its critics, who include many of his fellow Republicans.

Many conservatives argue that Goals 2000 invites federal intrusion into local schools, the rationale cited by officials in New Hampshire, Montana, and Virginia, the only three states that are not participating.

Mr. Specter noted that a major target of conservative criticism is the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, a body charged with reviewing national and state academic standards under the Goals 2000 law. Secretary Riley said the administration has already agreed not to nominate anyone to the panel, although lawmakers have not yet enacted legislation to abolish it. (See Education Week, May 17, 1995.)

Mr. Specter also suggested that the secretary of education should not have to approve a state's plans for academic standards before issuing grants. Mr. Riley said such a change is unnecessary, but is not a "life-and-death issue."

Finally, Mr. Specter said that local school boards should be able to apply directly for federal reform grants if a state chooses not to participate.

Ovide M. Lamontagne, the chairman of the New Hampshire board of education, the only witness to join Mr. Riley at the hearing, said that Mr. Specter's proposals were good ideas but that he would prefer a broader block grant.

Mr. Riley's accommodating tone apparently did not satisfy everyone. The only amendment proposed during the subcommittee markup was a motion to transfer $150 million from Goals 2000 to Individual with Disabilities Education ACT programs.

"The reason is simple," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who sponsored the amendment. "There is probably no larger unfunded mandate on school systems than idea."

His amendment was defeated 12-3, but he said he would offer it again on the floor.

Loan Debate Looms

Senators are also expected to propose floor amendments to add legislative riders dealing with abortion and lobbying by nonprofit groups that were passed by the House.

Something else is conspicuously absent from both the House and Senate bills: funding proposals for student-loan programs.

Appropriators have deferred that decision because the long-term budget plan endorsed by Congress last spring calls for changes in loan programs that save $10 billion over seven years.

Last week, congressional leaders gave authorizing committees an additional seven days, until Sept. 29, to come up with plans to realize the mandated cuts in student loans and other entitlement programs that will be rolled into a "reconciliation" bill.

Emotions were running high last week as Democrats continued to make political hay by charging that Republicans intend to cut some student-loan interest subsidies paid while students are in school--a move that could significantly increase loan costs.

"President Clinton and House Democrats have embarked on an orchestrated, intentional campaign of distortions," Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, said in a written statement.

House Republicans released an outline of their reconciliation plans last week that would end only interest subsidies paid during the six-month grace period following a borrower's graduation, adding an estimated $9 to monthly payments on an undergraduate loan.

The plan also calls for saving $4.9 billion through unspecified cuts in the profits of lending institutions and saving $1.5 billion by killing the direct-lending program.

Many Republicans have long argued that having the Education Department make loans directly to college students is fraught with management pitfalls and will not save as much money as the administration claims.

Last month, House Republicans announced that under new accounting rules, which push more expenses into the program's first few years, the program actually costs the government money--and eliminating it can be scored as "savings" under budget rules (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1995.)

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