WASHINGTON--Several Democratic members of the Congress, speaking before superintendents and board members of large urban school systems last week, expressed “cautious optimism’’ that federal education programs would not be cut to balance the 1988 budget.
“I think we can say with some robust certainty that the Congress is finished cutting education,’' said Representative Pat Williams, chairman of the House subcommittee on postsecondary education. He and other speakers warned, however, that the budget battle was far from over.
Another positive note was struck when the lawmakers discussed the major education programs that are currently undergoing reauthorization. They revealed plans that hold the potential to provide significant new funding in future years for large inner-city school systems.
The occasion was the annual legislative conference of the Council of Great City Schools, attended by superintendents and board members of the 38 urban school systems that compose the group.
Each of the Representatives who addressed the conference reiterated the Democrats’ support for placing a high priority on education funding as a means of addressing many of the nation’s most pressing problems, including the trade deficit.
“But don’t breathe a deep sigh of relief and go home,’' Representative William H. Gray 3rd, chairman of the House Budget Committee, told the school officials.
“The federal government is sitting on an anvil of deficits,’' he said, adding that “unless we get new revenues, those programs are going to be placed on that anvil and take a hammer blow.’'
Nevertheless, more than a dozen school officials interviewed during the meeting expressed optimism that the Congress would protect their interests, and might even provide significant funding increases for some education programs.
Michael Casserly, chief lobbyist for the council, expressed a more pragmatic view, saying: “Every year it’s an uphill battle for education, and there’s no reason to think that this year is any different.’'
“We’re more optimistic on the authorizing side,’' he said, “but the battles promise to be just as tough on the spending side.’'
The highest priority for the council this year, he and others said, is to ensure that the Chapter 1 reauthorization and appropriation bills include funding for “concentration grants,’' which have not been funded since 1982.
Members of the council also indicated strong support for legislation that would raise the authorization ceiling for the federal magnet-schools assistance program. Nearly 80 percent of the program’s funds now go to the council’s members.
The magnet-schools program will not expire until next year, but work is proceeding on several bills that would extend the program into the next decade, and would either double or eliminate the $75-million spending limit imposed when the program was created in 1984.
Another of the council’s major priorities is passage of the “school dropout demonstration and assistance act,’' which is similar to a bill that passed the House but died in the Senate last year. Also at the meeting here, Representative Harold E. Ford, chairman of the House subcommittee on public assistance and unemployment compensation, indicated that there would be a strong emphasis on education in his committee’s bill to reform the welfare system.
“I can assure you that a major focus of the bill will be on children,’' he said, “and on what types and kinds of incentives should be awarded to those children who stay in school.’'
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 1987 edition of Education Week as Congress Will Reject E.D. Cuts, Urban Chiefs Told