Critics Say House Budget Plan Is Too Little, Too Late
The House Budget Committee last week approved a plan that calls for raising education spending slightly over the next five years.
But the conservative-backed document, which passed May 20 by a 22-16 party-line vote after hours of partisan jibes, may not have any effect on the annual appropriations process. In separate action, House appropriators began sketching out their proposed fiscal 1999 allotments for education programs last week. Some Democrats on the Budget Committee also said they doubted the budget resolution would pass the full House when it comes up for a vote in early June.
The nonbinding budget resolution made no recommendations for spending on specific education programs and did not include a controversial plan to transform Title I funding into education vouchers for poor students.
Under intense questioning by Democrats on the budget panel, Rep. John R. Kasich, the House Budget Committee chairman, downplayed a draft released earlier in the month in which he had proposed turning the Title I program into a school choice plan, a long-standing GOP idea that then-Secretary of Education William J. Bennett pushed in the 1980s.
"What we believe on this committee and what Republicans believe is that we ought to have more block grants and less strings," Mr. Kasich said, countering Democrats' charges that he sought to abolish Title I, which received $8 billion in funding this year. He added that education programs would likely see some increases under the GOP members' plan.
An Education 'Loser'?
The resolution would allow the federal government to spend up to $61.4 billion in fiscal 1999 in the appropriations category that includes education, training, employment, and social services. The category received a $61.3 billion appropriation in fiscal 1998. Education spending alone was set at $30.7 billion.
Funding for education, training, employment, and social services would rise to $65.6 billion by fiscal 2003. Those figures are slightly lower than in the Senate version, which calls for giving such programs $63 billion in 1999 and $68.4 billion by 2003. ("Budget Plan Approved; Tax-Break Debate Set," April 8, 1998.)
Last week, the proposed resolution drew sharp criticism from Democrats, who said it was too vague. "I don't think I've ever seen a budget resolution so skeletal," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the panel's ranking Democrat.
The private Committee for Education Funding estimates that the budget plan, if followed, would cut $13 billion from education programs over the next five years, when inflation and enrollment increases are taken into account.
"The House budget resolution is a loser for education," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director for the CEF, a Washington-based coalition of education groups that lobbies for school funding. But he doubted the nonbinding resolution would have much, if any, impact on the appropriations process, given its late arrival.
The committee also rejected amendments offered by Democrats to restore funding for White House proposals for school construction and repairs, hire 100,000 new teachers, and reject any proposals to turn Title I into vouchers. It did, however, accept an amendment to encourage more funding for special education.
"We have a different vision" from that of the Clinton administration, Mr. Kasich said of his party. "We believe the federal government ought to be less important, while the family and individuals ought to be more important."
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley charged that the budget document was "anti-education and would not serve the interests of students and their families."
The House will likely vote on the budget resolution when it returns from its Memorial Day recess next month. Senate appropriators will begin writing a spending bill in coming weeks.
Vol. 17, Issue 37, Page 18