President Vows Veto Unless School Aid Grows
President Clinton pledged last week to veto the next stopgap spending bill Congress sends him if it does not boost school funding, according to a National Education Association lobbyist.
A continuing resolution is financing through March 15 the Department of Education and other federal agencies without final 1996 appropriations. If the terms of the temporary bill were extended through the entire fiscal year, federal education funding would drop $3.1 billion from the 1995 level, including a $1 billion cut in the Title I compensatory-education program. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1996.)
The Education Department was allotted $32 billion in fiscal 1995, which ended Oct. 1. The president had proposed a $700 million increase in the agency's discretionary spending in fiscal 1996.
Mr. Clinton made his veto pledge Feb. 7 at meeting here with NEA President Keith Geiger and Mary Elizabeth Teasley, the union's director of government relations, according to Dale Lestina, a senior lobbyist for the union.
"He indicated that he would not sign another continuing resolution that does not provide for funding public education, and have an increase in it, probably an inflationary increase," Mr. Lestina said.
Education lobbyists were pleased by Mr. Clinton's stance.
"I'll be duly impressed if the pres-ident is prepared to make a statement like that," said Laurie A. Westley, the assistant executive director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.
"We'd like for Congress to get the picture that it would be bad to extend this continuing resolution," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying group here. "It's important now to see the president taking a stand on this."
But Elizabeth Morra, the spokes-woman for the House Appropriations Committee, had another view.
"I don't think it is helpful to draw a line in the sand as we approach the March 15 deadline," she said.
"[Mr. Clinton] knows any extra money would have to come from a larger budget deal on entitlement spending," Ms. Morra added. "Without a deal, the money would have to come from somewhere else" in the spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
Indeed, raising education funding above 1995 levels would be difficult without a long-term budget deal that permits more spending in 1996 than the GOP budget plan adopted by Congress last year. (See Education Week, Jan. 24, 1996.)
With Congress in recess through the end of the month, little action can occur until March. Still, recent developments are prompting new optimism about the odds of a deal being struck.
The nation's governors hope that a welfare-reform plan they approved here last week will spur a new round of talks between Congress and the White House on the budget and the policy changes in entitlement programs. Such changes would have to be part of a long-term plan to balance the federal budget.
And it is possible that the Senate's 1996 appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education could move forward soon. A big roadblock was removed recently, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a presidential executive order barring companies with federal contracts from permanently replacing striking workers. Senate Democrats' opposition to Republican-backed language in the spending bill that would override the executive order has been one of the primary sticking points preventing a floor vote on the bill.
The Senate bill would cut $2.1 billion from 1995 federal school aid, compared with the $3.7 billion in cuts proposed by the House.
"It would certainly help us if we could get a bill through the Senate," said Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. "Informal talks are going on now, but they're not at a substantive level."
Lacking final 1996 budget numbers, President Clinton was forced to release a broad blueprint last week instead of the detailed fiscal 1997 budget request that would normally be due the first week in February. A final document is expected the week of March 18.
The 20-page outline released Feb. 5 calls for cutting $297 billion in domestic spending over seven years. The savings would help balance the federal budget by 2002, the document claims.
Some education programs are singled out for increases under Mr. Clinton's "broad agenda of lifelong learning," although specific funding levels are not proposed. Those programs include Head Start, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and the AmeriCorps national-service program.
The president also proposes fund-ing for a new school-technology initiative and $1,000 scholarships for the top 5 percent of graduates in every high school, ideas he noted in his State of the Union Address. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1996.)