GOP Budget Plans Promise Big Hikes in K-12 Spending
Education would come out a big winner under the Republican budget blueprints shepherded through committees in the House and the Senate last week. But party-line votes in both panels may signal looming battles over federal spending priorities.
Last Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee by a 12-10 vote approved a nonbinding budget resolution that would kick up the Department of Education's discretionary funding by $2.4 billion--or 7.1 percent--for fiscal 2000, to nearly $36 billion.
The plan would provide $24.1 billion for K-12 education, which Republicans said exceeds President Clinton's proposed budget by $3.3 billion. But critics say that difference does not reflect certain special education funds in the president's budget.
Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee offered a relatively more modest increase that would bring total K-12 spending to $22 billion in fiscal 2000. Over five years, the House plan would fall $16 billion short of the Senate spending estimates for K-12 education. The plan passed March 17 on a 22-18, party-line vote.
The budget resolution is a nonbinding document that outlines in broad terms Congress' spending priorities for the coming year and the next decade. Though the plan is likely to guide the actions of GOP lawmakers, it will be up to congressional appropriators to decide how much they actually intend to earmark for specific federal programs.
Both the House and Senate resolutions were scheduled for floor debate this week.
Education and defense are the two key areas where Republicans are pushing for increased spending. The Clinton administration and congressional Democrats, however, raised strong objections last week to portions of the budget plans, especially provisions they argued would hurt efforts to shore up Medicare. Mr. Clinton is seeking $34.7 billion in overall discretionary funding for the Education Department in fiscal 2000, a $1.2 billion, or 3.6 percent, increase over the current year's budget.
A summary of the Senate budget resolution shows that the increases for elementary and secondary education would focus largely on two points: funding a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would put more money and control in the hands of states, localities, and families; and setting aside $2.5 billion over five years to meet the federal commitment under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The plan would also increase discretionary spending overall in the Education Department by $31 billion over five years.
Some in the education community were encouraged by the prominent attention education receives in the plans.
"Overall, it's certainly more positive than things have been in the past," said Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the 2.4 million-member National Education Association.
Julie Green, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's press secretary, said department officials "welcome discussion about increased funding for education, but would need to know details about the proposal."
But some education advocates, including teachers' union officials, expressed concern that the K-12 education increases would likely come at the expense of other domestic priorities, such as Head Start and job training. Any such cuts, they said, could harm those expected to benefit from more spending on education.
Vol. 18, Issue 28, Page 22