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House Freezes Education Spending as Congress Delays Budget

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Washington

It's deja vu in Congress, where it looks more and more like spending bills for the Department of Education and scores of other federal agencies will not be passed this fall.

This year's scenario could mean a replay of last year, when frustrated local budget officials waited seven months for Congress and the White House to agree on final spending levels.

Now, Congress plans to adjourn Oct. 4 so members can begin full-time campaigning for the November elections. That leaves little time to pass all or even most of the 13 federal appropriations bills for fiscal 1997, which begins Oct. 1.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said work will begin after Labor Day on a continuing resolution, a bill that would set spending levels through early spring for agencies caught in the lurch without official appropriations. But talk of stopgap spending bills provides little satisfaction to education officials who had hoped to get back on a regular planning and funding cycle.

"A continuing resolution would put decisions on hold again," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition here. "It leaves us wondering what Congress will do."

On the bright side, Mr. Kealy said, the temporary plan might give education backers the chance to lobby a new, and perhaps more receptive, Congress for higher school aid levels in 1997.

Senate Delay

In related budget news, the House passed its education spending bill, which includes no new overall funding, early last month. Work on the Senate version was postponed until September.

The Senate delay was due, in part, to a disagreement between Republican leaders over whether to tap a $1.3 billion reserve to boost education and other social spending.

"It's important to mark a Senate bill, but I'm not sure if it makes a big difference if it is done now or after Labor Day," a GOP aide said.

The House bill would give the Education Department $22.8 billion in discretionary funds for fiscal 1997, about equal to the current level but $2.8 billion below President Clinton's request.

The House passed the bill July 12 on a 216-209 vote.

An amendment offered by Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., to spend $2 million on programs under the Women's Educational Equity Act passed 294-129. The programs received no federal funding this year.

The bill passed by the House would eliminate the president's chief school-reform program, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and nearly two dozen other small programs for a savings of about $625 million.

Republicans boast that the bill would not cut Title I remedial education, would increase Pell Grant maximum awards by $30 to $2,500, and only slightly cut school-to-work funds.

An unimpressed Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said he would recommend a veto.

"These cuts would come at the worst time of all--when there will be more students in America's classrooms than ever before," he said.

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