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Advocates Buoyed by Clinton Plan That Protects Education

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Washington

President Clinton last week vetoed a bill that would have cut entitlement programs en route to a balanced budget, and then unveiled his own balanced-budget plan, which would protect education programs.

Republicans said the plan was inadequate, and as budget talks continued last week, observers said that the dust may not settle until early next year.

"It's still hard to say what will happen, but we're thankful the administration plan is holding firm on education," said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association.

Mr. Clinton's plan would raise the Department of Education's budget by 3.8 percent in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said the plan's education proposals mirror the 1996 budget the President proposed in January.

In contrast, an appropriations bill approved by the House would cut federal education spending by $3.5 billion, while a pending Senate bill would strip $2.5 billion from current spending levels.

"I think the president is basically fulfilling his oft-stated goal to invest in a serious way in education," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Clinton's plan would add $7 billion to overall spending levels proposed by Republican leaders, but does not explain how he would find the extra money. Spending on schools and other priorities would be capped, but adjusted for inflation, over the next six years. Mr. Clinton proposed a smaller tax break than the GOP plan and used rosier revenue predictions.

"This plan is $400 billion in the hole," said Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a chief budget negotiator for the gop. "It's a tremendous disappointment."

With the negotiators still far apart and a deadline looming, Mr. Clinton also asked lawmakers to extend through Jan. 26 the stopgap spending bill that is funding the Education Department and other agencies whose budgets have not been passed. Failure to reach an agreement by Dec. 15 would trigger a partial government shutdown like the one that occurred last month. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1995.)

The president's request worries education groups because the current stopgap measure sets spending levels at the lowest of three marks for each program: bills passed by the House or the Senate, or 1995 funding levels. Programs that would receive no funds in pending appropriations bills can spend only 60 percent of their 1995 allocation.

Mr. Smith said the concern is legitimate, but not immediate, because most fiscal 1996 education money will not go to school districts until July 1.

Observers also noted that failure to reach agreement on a long-term budget plan would not bode well for education programs, as adding funding for fiscal 1996 would require adjustments in overall spending allocations that can only be achieved under a broader budget pact.

"We will certainly be urging the administration to draw a line in the sand in January on money for education," Mr. Packer said.

School-Lunch Dispute

Meanwhile, GOP leaders scrapped a planned media blitz to trumpet their welfare-reform proposals, which were tied up in a House-Senate conference committee by a disagreement on child-nutrition issues.

The welfare plan, HR 4, generally mirrors welfare provisions that were included in the budget-reconciliation bill Mr. Clinton vetoed last week. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1995.)

But lawmakers had passed that bill without resolving their differences over school meals.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, wants to end the federal guarantee of a school meal for every child who qualifies for one, and allow states to design their own programs, funded with limited lump-sum payments, or block grants.

But Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, firmly opposes the idea. He and Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., said they would not sign a conference report with block-grant provisions.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., had planned last week to offer a motion on the House floor instructing House conferees to side with the Senate on the block-grant issue. School-nutrition advocates were hopeful that the motion would pass, undermining Mr. Goodling's stand.

Mr. Miller decided not to offer the motion, possibly as a negotiating tactic, and it was unclear last week if he would revive it.

Staff Writer Millicent Lawton also contributed to this report.

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