Congress OKs More Money For Schools in Budget Plan
Congress last week approved a Republican spending blueprint for the coming fiscal year that promises more money for education, but substantially less than President Clinton has requested.
With nearly unanimous Democratic opposition, the House and the Senate last Thursday passed the $1.8 trillion budget resolution for fiscal 2001, a nonbinding document that is designed to guide action on spending and tax bills. It does not require presidential approval.
Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in a statement that the budget plan would provide more money for GOP priorities such as education and defense spending, while offering at least $150 billion in tax cuts over five years.
The plan would raise discretionary spending for the budget category that includes education and related programs by about $2.2 billion over the current level, to a total of $56.8 billion. Most of the increase would be dedicated to helping school districts with their special education costs.
But that spending level is far lower than the $4.7 billion increase President Clinton has requested for the same budget category. More specifically, Mr. Clinton is seeking an unprecedented $4.5 billion increase in Department of Education spending in the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1, which would bring overall discretionary spending for the agency up to $40.1 billion.
Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a broad-based group that advocates increased federal education spending, called the final budget plan a "great disappointment." He also argued that it was unrealistic.
"It creates an impossible situation for [congressional] appropriators," who will be forced to freeze or cut funding for many programs if they stick to the overall spending levels, he said.
Special Education Funding
When Senate and House negotiators met last week to reconcile their differences before the two chambers passed the final plan, they decided against two Senate measures that would have increased education spending.
One amendment, proposed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D- Mass., would have provided $2.7 billion over five years in additional spending for Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college. The measure would have paid for the increase by dipping into money set aside for tax cuts.
Another Senate measure that was excluded from the compromise bill would have provided $2.3 billion in new, mandatory funds to reward states that improved student achievement. Unlike discretionary funds, mandated spending is not subject to the annual appropriations process.
Meanwhile, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved by a voice vote last week a bill that would authorize the federal government to meet its commitment of paying 40 percent of schools' special education costs by 2010.
This fiscal year, the Education Department is providing $5 billion for special education state grants; the bill adopted by the committee would gradually increase the amount it could spend to about $15 billion per year.
Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 36