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NEA Predicts Level K-12 Arts Funding

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Washington

The level of funding the National Endowment for the Arts devotes to education is likely to hold steady despite massive budget cuts facing the agency, the endowment's chairwoman said last week.

"I would think it would probably be about the same," Jane Alexander said at a round-table discussion with reporters.

An appropriations bill President Clinton vetoed in December would hit the nea with a budget reduction of about 40 percent, providing $99.5 million for fiscal 1996, compared with $162.3 million last year.

About $7 million of the agency's 1995 budget was spent directly on K-12 education programs. Those grants typically generate matching funds from outside sources. The agency also pays for other programs that benefit schools, such as subsidizing performers who do some work with children.

While the overall budget is virtually certain to be cut once lawmakers and the White House agree on a spending plan, Ms. Alexander said, congressional restrictions concern funding for individual artists, and the agency will probably spend about as much as it did last year on education activities.

"Arts education has always been a high priority," she said.

Coping With Cuts

As part of its effort to cope with the expected cuts, the arts endowment reorganized itself last monthjan, replacing 17 programs with four broad divisions. The "education and access" division will award grants in such areas as arts instruction, curriculum development, and teacher training.

Under the new structure, a given organization will be allowed to submit only one grant application to the endowment per year. In the past, an organization might have submitted multiple applications to various nea programs. The new restriction was necessary, Ms. Alexander said, to keep the staff, which has dropped from 279 to 148 since last fall, from being overwhelmed.

The agency's funding for fiscal 1996, which began Oct. 1, is a small part of the budgetary imbroglio between the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House. In spite of its relatively small size, however, the endowment has been a major target of conservatives who contend that the government should not be in the business of underwriting the arts or that the kinds of projects it sponsors should be restricted.

The endowment must be reauthorized this year, and the House leadership stated in a conference report accompanying its version of the vetoed appropriations bill that the GOP majority will not support funding the nea beyond fiscal 1997. Senators are not expected to agree.

Should the agency shut down, Ms. Alexander does not think private funding will replace it.

"Who is going to privately fund me to go into a school and work with a drama class?" she asked.

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