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Senate Panel Backs Plan To Boost ED's '97 Budget by $582 Million

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Prospects for Department of Education spending in the next fiscal year are improving as Congress moves to settle funding by the end of the month.

The department would win a $582 million raise for 1997 under a plan approved last week by a Senate panel, though the only major increase for a K-12 program is slotted for drug-prevention efforts. The House, by contrast, passed a plan that would keep federal education funding steady at $25.2 billion next year.

While the Senate plan proved more generous than the House version, Clinton administration officials said the bill would not provide enough new money to win the president's signature.

"This measure falls short--$2.2 billion short--of the president's request," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a statement last week. Mr. Riley and other senior advisers would recommend that Mr. Clinton veto the bill, Franklin Raines, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a letter to senators late last week.

With that threat, education's bottom line is bound to increase before Congress and the administration conclude an agreement, Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., said in an interview last week. Even Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the subcommittee that wrote the Senate plan, said last week that he wants to find money to add to his bill.

Mr. Porter, who is the chairman of the House education appropriations panel, predicts the fiscal 1997 education-funding debate will follow the same pattern as the law that guides this year's spending. For fiscal 1996, the House proposed a $3.5 billion cut, and the Senate trimmed the department's losses to $2 billion. After extended talks with the Clinton administration, education spending stayed even with the previous year's total.

Three-Way Talks

For fiscal 1997, however, the final education-spending level will probably rise. The House started by proposing no increase for the department. Now, the Senate is offering its increase, and Mr. Clinton is standing behind his original proposal to give the department a $2.8 billion boost over 1996, said Marshall S. Smith, the Education Department's undersecretary.

The middle ground between the Senate and the administration would mean a $1.3 billion increase for education.

The Senate plan would offer a $90 million increase to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, raising its total to $556 million.

Other K-12 programs--such as Title I, vocational education, and Goals 2000--would receive exactly the same amount as in 1996 under the proposal the Senate Appropriations Committee approved last week. Special education grants would rise $10 million above this year's $3 billion total.

To meet Mr. Clinton's goals, Senate appropriators would have to find almost $1 billion more for K-12 programs, including $435 million for the Title I compensatory-education program and $289 million for special education.

Finding the money will not be easy. House members insist that any deal stay below the domestic-spending caps Congress set in a six-year budget blueprint in June, said Elizabeth Morra, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee.

The full Senate will debate education funding this week, observers predicted.

Meanwhile, the House plans to bundle its school-spending bill with spending for other departments, such as transportation and housing, still stuck in Congress. The House would be unlikely to change the numbers in its 1997 proposal to level-fund education programs, Ms. Morra said.

That strategy would create three-way talks with the Senate and the administration in an attempt to complete action on 1997 spending before the fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, she said.

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