Education Spending Continues To Divide President, Congress
Congress and the White House still had not reached an accord on the Department of Education budget at press time late last week, as disagreements over school construction and overall spending continued to bog down the process.
Last Thursday, the House approved tax legislation, 237-174, that would provide some assistance to school districts for their construction needs; the Senate was expected to approve the bill the next day. But President Clinton has vowed to veto the legislation, citing complaints on a range of issues.
Mr. Clinton has said he would also veto the spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education if it did not meet his demands on school construction and other funding priorities, such as after-school programs and class-size reduction.
Asked when he expected a final budget agreement, House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said last Friday morning: "I don't know. We're meeting [again] with the administration in about 30 minutes."
Despite the remaining differences, the basic outcome seems clear: Congress and the White House appear on track to approve the largest-ever single increase in the Education Department's budget, with both Democrats and Republicans looking at more than $40 billion in discretionary spending during fiscal 2001, which began Oct. 1.
Two separate school construction matters were still unresolved last week.
First, the president wants to attach $1.3 billion to the department's budget in grants to districts for emergency school repairs. Republicans have proposed to appropriate that amount, but only if districts can spend it on other education needs if they so choose.
"Give parents and school superintendents and school boards the power to decide if they need that money for school construction, or if they need it for teacher training, or if they need it for new computers," Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a prepared statement last week.
The second area of disagreement concerns tax-related measures to help with school construction. Mr. Clinton is promoting a bipartisan package worked out by Reps. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., and Charles S. Rangel, D-N.Y., that would pay for tax credits on $25 billion in modernization bonds for schools over two years. The agreement worked out by House and Senate Republicans, however, would provide about $16 billion over three years.
The GOP plan does not include so-called Davis-Bacon provisions that would ensure that workers on the federally funded school construction projects were paid the prevailing local wage, as called for in the bipartisan plan. The Republicans also would extend "arbitrage" provisions from two years to four, allowing local districts to accrue interest on bond revenue without paying taxes for that period of time.
In a letter to Congress, Mr. Clinton argued that "the arbitrage provision encourages delay in urgently needed school construction and would disproportionately help wealthy school districts."
The delays in reaching a budget deal worried some education lobbyists, who suggested that congressional leaders might decide to wait until after the Nov. 7 elections to complete the education spending bill. President Clinton might have less leverage then.
But Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a broad coalition that supports more education spending, said last Thursday: "My more hopeful side is that there will be one more effort here over the weekend, or even tomorrow." He added, "It's unacceptable for Congress not to do its work."
Vol. 20, Issue 9, Page 26