GOP Plan Would Cut Spending On Education
House appropriators took their first steps toward crafting an education budget late last week, approving on a party-line vote a Republican plan that is about $200 million shy of education spending levels for this year.
The fiscal 2000 spending bill that the GOP unveiled last Thursday at an appropriations "markup" hearing immediately came under fire from the Clinton administration and some Washington-based education groups.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley called it "irresponsible" and said he would urge President Clinton to veto it.
"At a time when record numbers of students are enrolled in school, the Republicans have actually cut education funding," Mr. Riley said in a statement.
The plan--approved by the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee on an 8-6 vote--would provide $33.3 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education in the fiscal year that begins this coming Friday, about $200 million, or 0.6 percent, shy of this year's $33.5 billion budget. By contrast, the president's budget plan would increase education spending by $1.2 billion, or 3.6 percent, to $34.7 billion.
The GOP plan would also eliminate funding for the president's $1.2 billion class-size-reduction program, the $491 million Goals 2000 initiative, and the $335 million Eisenhower professional development program. Instead, it would fund a GOP alternative--the Teacher Empowerment Act--at $1.8 billion that would support teacher training and hiring.
With the 1999 fiscal year nearly over, the full Appropriations Committee was expected to vote on the bill this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee still has not taken action on its spending bill for education.
Many observers predict that Congress will have to pass a short-term "continuing resolution" by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins, since most of the appropriations bills for the new budget year have not been completed and signed by Mr. Clinton. A continuing resolution would keep current spending levels in place.
Joel C. Packer, a senior lobbyist with the 2.4 million-member National Education Association, found little to like in the appropriations proposal. He said that GOP lawmakers had been talking all year about raising education spending, but that they failed to live up to that promise last week.
"It's not a big increase; it's not a little increase," he said. "It's a reduction."
Complicating appropriations discussions are tight budget caps that Congress and President Clinton agreed to in 1997. The caps were seen as protection against future deficit spending.
"The modest 0.6 percent reduction in the Education Department budget is a reality of the 1997 budget agreement, which was agreed to by the president and Democrats and Republicans in Congress," said John Scofield, a spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Appropriations Committee.
The Republican bill would freeze spending at fiscal 1999 levels for most education programs, raise spending for a few, and reduce--and in some cases eliminate--it for others.
Under the plan, spending on the $260 million Reading Excellence Act would be cut by $60 million. The $120 million GEAR-UP program--which seeks to help disadvantaged students prepare for college--would be eliminated, as would the $75 million teacher-training-in-technology program.
At the same time, the Republican plan would increase the allocation for several programs, including adding $500 million more for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, bringing state grant spending to a total of $5.6 billion. Special education spending has been a priority for congressional Republicans for several years.
Other winners in the GOP plan include after-school programs, which would see a $100 million increase, to $300 million, in fiscal 2000, and impact aid, which would see its appropriation climb by $43 million to $907 million. Impact aid supports school districts in areas where the local tax base is reduced because of federal installations.
Title I funding for schools with large numbers of disadvantaged children would essentially be frozen at current levels, with $8.4 billion overall and $7.7 billion in grants to districts. Funding for many other programs--including bilingual education and vocational education--would also hold steady at fiscal 1999 levels under the plan.
Appropriators managed to avoid even larger cuts by proposing to dramatically expand their use of "advance" or "forward" funding--an accounting maneuver in which money would be budgeted but not spent until after the beginning of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2000. That would allow appropriators to skirt the strict budget caps negotiated in 1997.
In last year's budget, roughly $6 billion in funding for Education Department programs was advance-funded. Under the new Republican plan, that figure would climb to about $15 billion.
Although some budget experts say making such a move would not likely have any immediate impact on programs, they warn that doing so would make less money available for the following year's budget.
Still, observers said it was still too early to bank on the spending proposal.
"We've got a long way to go," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a broad-based lobbying group that advocates increased federal spending on education.
Vol. 19, Issue 5, Pages 24,27