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Published in Print: March 28, 2001, as Panel's Budget Singles Out Spec. Ed. for Boost

Panel's Budget Singles Out Spec. Ed. for Boost

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The House is expected this week to take up a Republican budget blueprint that backs President Bush's plans to increase education spending, but with one catch: More than $1 billion in the budget would be available only if it's used to increase funding for special education.

Either way, Democrats said, the proposed budget plan for fiscal 2002 falls short of the much larger increase they would like to see for the Department of Education.

On a party-line vote of 23-19, the House Budget Committee last week approved the nearly $2 trillion budget resolution, a document designed to guide action on spending and tax legislation. It does not require presidential approval.

The Republican plan in most respects reflects the priorities that Mr. Bush put forward in his own budget outline, released last month.

The House bill promises more spending in selected areas, including education, money for reduction of the federal debt, and a $1.6 trillion tax cut over 10 years. In total, it would set aside $661 billion for discretionary programs in the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1.

During the Budget Committee deliberations, Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, the new chairman of the panel, said that more money for education was one of the six main budget goals.

"We do not want to leave any child behind in our plan," he said, echoing the title of the education blueprint—"No Child Left Behind"—that President Bush put forward just days after his inauguration.

The plan calls for $65.3 billion in discretionary budget authority for education, training, employment, and social services. Out of that total, Republicans said they would match the president's call for $44.5 billion for the Education Department, an increase of nearly 6 percent over the current fiscal year's $42.1 billion budget.

In an unusual move, committee Republicans included language creating a "reserve fund" for special education.

Push for Special Education

Under that provision, $1.25 billion of the discretionary spending would only be available if it was used to increase special education funding, which is more than $6 billion. Increased federal aid for special education has been a top budget priority of GOP lawmakers in recent years.

Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association, was critical of the tactic.

"What they did is not only not helpful ... it's harmful," he said. "There's just not going to be enough room to do the things Bush said he wants to do. I just don't see how this works."

During committee deliberations, Democrats offered a series of amendments, including one that would have called for an additional increase in the amount of discretionary spending for education programs by $4.2 billion to pay for class-size reduction, school renovation, and increased Pell Grants, among other purposes. The Democratic amendment also sought to support federal tax credits at a cost of $6.8 billion over 10 years to help leverage $25 billion in school construction bonds. But nearly all the Democratic amendments were defeated along party lines.

A summary accompanying the proposed budget blueprint indicates that the resolution would accommodate Mr. Bush's call for $44.5 billion for the Education Department next fiscal year. Of that, the summary supports a tripling of spending on reading programs—from nearly $300 million this year to $900 million in fiscal 2002, with $5 billion available over five years. It also backs the president's call for $2.6 billion to improve teacher quality next year.

In addition, the summary says the budget resolution would support Mr. Bush's plans for some tax-related measures for education, such as a tenfold increase in the annual contribution ceiling for education savings accounts. Under the proposal, the accounts could be used for both K-12 and higher education expenses. Currently, only higher education expenses are permitted.

The Senate is expected to take up its version of the budget resolution in early April.

Democrats also sought to win support for an amendment to commit the Budget Committee to fully fund the maximum federal share of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by 2007, but their efforts were rebuffed.

The federal government set out to pay up to 40 percent of the national average for per-pupil expenditures for educating such students when it passed the law in 1975, but has never come close to that goal.

"We were extremely disappointed with the special education vote," said Jordan Cross, a legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators, noting that some of the Republicans who opposed the amendment have been active proponents of fully funding special education. "They're going to have to explain that to their constituents."

Vol. 20, Issue 28, Pages 24,29

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