Clinton Budget Emphasizes New Plans, Minor Increases
President Clinton's budget proposal for fiscal 2000 accentuates his high-profile school reform initiatives, but Republicans and some education advocates fear that it does so at the expense of existing programs.
The total Department of Education budget would increase 3.6 percent, from $33.5 billion to $34.7 billion, for discretionary education programs, under what the president notes is the first budget plan for the new millennium. Among other provisions, the plan includes $1.4 billion to help school districts reduce class sizes and hire new teachers.
"The federal government puts a lot of money into highways, but frankly, this is our road to the future," Mr. Clinton said in promoting his education blueprint at the National School Boards Association conference here last week.
Not everyone agrees with the route the White House has mapped out, however.
At a news conference two days after the plan's Feb. 1 release, congressional Republicans vowed that they would not approve funds for any of Mr. Clinton's pet initiatives until state grants for special education received much more than the 1 percent increase the president has proposed.
"He might as well kiss all his initiatives goodbye until he deals with [special education]," Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said at a news briefing with other Republicans at the Capitol.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Goodling issued a similarly negative statement: "We think his priorities are backward, and we will work to ensure that programs that reach local communities are adequately supported."
Some education groups also expressed disappointment in the president's proposal for minimal spending increases for existing programs such as Title I, which provides $7.68 billion for schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students in the current fiscal year. Mr. Clinton would increase spending on Title I grants by 4 percent, to nearly $8 billion, including $200 million earmarked to help accelerate the program's accountability provisions.
"We applaud [Mr. Clinton] for using the bully pulpit for education, but there are some problems with this budget," said Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the NSBA, whose members went to Capitol Hill last week. "To look at the core programs, that is where we are most disappointed in the president's budget."
Snubbing GOP Priorities
In announcing details of the budget plan, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the goal was to focus on programs that work, and he lauded Mr. Clinton's new plans to help raise districts' accountability for student achievement. In his State of the Union Address last month, Mr. Clinton called for linking federal dollars to student performance and other accountability measures by building on standards already adopted by 48 states. ("Clinton Links K-12 Dollars, Performance," Jan. 27, 1999.)
Bob Chase, the president of the 2.4 million-member National Education Association, praised Mr. Clinton's focus on education, but expressed concern over the lack of bigger increases for existing programs such as Title I, special education, and student loans.
"An overall increase of less than 4 percent just doesn't go far enough to respond to public demand and growing pressures on our public schools to improve," he said in a written statement. "Even though we are disappointed in several of the president's funding proposals, they certainly set the table for what should be a lively and productive debate over federal policy and funding."
"We're disappointed," added Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups that lobbies for federal aid to education. "This is the year we're going to look to Congress to build on [the White House] initiative."
In the past three years, congressional Republicans have been willing to supplement Mr. Clinton's requests, approving record increases in the education budget, which has grown nearly 38 percent since fiscal 1996.
Mr. Clinton's fiscal 2000 proposal would scrap, cut, or increase only slightly funding in three GOP priority areas: special education, impact aid, and Title VI block grants. The administration argues that its new programs would benefit all students, including those with special needs. But the proposed spending levels angered GOP leaders, who quickly criticized the president and promised to send more federal funding to local districts.
The budget proposal "reflects the really crass nature of this administration's attitude toward special education," charged Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who pushed for a significant increase in special education funding last year.
Under the administration's plan, state grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main special education law, would increase by only 1 percent--from $5.05 billion to $5.11 billion. Republicans have made boosting funding for special education state grants a priority. By sending more special education money to the states from Washington, the GOP says, more local dollars would be freed up for regular education needs.
Funding for impact aid, the program that compensates districts where the local tax base is reduced because of federal facilities or activities, would be cut $128 million, or 14.8 percent, from $864 million to $736 million.
In addition, Mr. Clinton's proposal would abolish funding for the $375 million Title VI block grants--the omnibus grants given to districts with high concentrations of impoverished children. The block grants are a favorite of Republicans because the aid has few strings attached and can be used for a wide variety of reform efforts.
Head Start, Goals 2000
The proposal calls for large increases for the White House's K-12 priorities. It offers an additional $200 million for Mr. Clinton's class-size-reduction initiative, which aims to help districts hire a total of 100,000 new teachers over seven years. That program was first funded at $1.2 billion for this fiscal year.
In addition, the administration again proposes a $3.7 billion, five-year initiative to help districts pay the interest on school construction bonds. An identical construction proposal failed last year.
The budget also would allot $600 million--up from $200 million this year--for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which coordinate after school and other community-related activities in school facilities.
As part of Mr. Clinton's emphasis on accountability in schools, the budget plan would allot:
- $491 million for the Goals 2000 school reform initiative, the same amount as in the fiscal 1999 budget;
- A $45 million increase, to $109 million, for the national education research institutes financed by the Education Department, for "research-based information on what works in education";
- $16 million to continue development of Mr. Clinton's proposed new national tests in reading and mathematics; and
- $130 million for charter schools, up from $100 million.
In addition, the president's budget for the Department of Health and Human Services would increase Head Start funding by $607 million, to $5.3 billion, a 13 percent boost.
Vol. 18, Issue 22, Pages 1,21