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House Plan Would Freeze School Aid in Fiscal '97

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Federal school aid would be frozen at current levels, while Goals 2000 and 20 other smaller education programs would be eliminated, under a preliminary spending bill approved by a House subcommittee last week.

And a last-minute amendment added to the fiscal 1997 spending bill would transfer funds from professional development and other categories to more than double state block grants for program innovation.

The $65 billion bill, passed June 14 by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, would set aside $22.8 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Education.

Though the bill is more generous than the 15 percent cut in education funding that the panel sought last year, it provides far less than the $25.6 billion requested by President Clinton for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

"If I thought the federal government had a bigger role in education, it would have a higher funding priority," said Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the panel. Federal spending accounts for about 6 percent of the nation's K-12 school budgets.

The Senate is likely to bump up school spending when it takes up the bill this summer, just as it did with the fiscal 1996 spending bill.

"This is a freeze that will leave America's schools and students out in the cold," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a statement.

"I think the White House will want major changes before it signs this bill," said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

House GOP leaders predicted that the measure would go to the full Appropriations Committee this week and reach the full House before the Fourth of July break.

Big Priorities

As he introduced his bill, Mr. Porter explained that it favored large programs while trying to eliminate small programs that are expensive or duplicative of other programs.

For example, Title I remedial education, special education state grants, and vocational- and adult-education state grants would be funded at 1996 levels.

Programs that would be earmarked for increases by the House subcommittee include federal impact aid, from $693 million to $728 million; TRIO college support for minority students, from $463 million to $500 million; and education research, from $56 million to $75 million.

The maximum Pell Grant for college students would increase by $30, to $2,500.

Mr. Riley called that amount "totally inadequate" compared with the $230 increase proposed by the president.

The most prominent program on the House chopping block is the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The Clinton initiative, which aims to promote high academic standards through state and local school-reform grants, was also targeted by the House last year before being salvaged by the Senate.

Rep. Porter called Goals 2000 funding unnecessary because states are already undertaking standards-based reforms on their own.

Republicans Dominate

Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr., R-Okla., provided one of the biggest surprises during the six-hour mark-up.

His successful amendment consolidating several small categorical programs would lump $313 million into state grants for program innovation, bringing that category to $613 million. The administration wanted to terminate the block-grant program.

The increased funds would come from federal professional development, $275 million; foreign-language assistance, $15 million; and Star Schools, $23 million.

"Let's take it from programs with lots of strings and put it into programs with fewer strings," Mr. Istook argued shortly before his plan passed on an 8-5 party-line vote.

Democrats found themselves blocked in trying to restore education funding.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., offered an amendment to add nearly $400 million to higher education accounts, including federal contributions to Perkins Loans, which the bill would terminate. It died, 8-5.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., also failed in his bid to restore $2.6 billion in education funds to compensate for record enrollments projected this fall in public schools.

In budget action elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House and Senate overcame GOP infighting to pass the conference report for the 1997 budget resolution, which charts a nonbinding path to a balanced federal budget by 2002.

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