Congressional Panels Outline Education Budget Priorities

By William Montague — March 18, 1987 5 min read

WASHINGTON--The four key Congressional committees that control federal funding for education have formally expressed their opposition to the deep spending cuts proposed by the Reagan Administration.

In their annual “views and estimates’’ reports to the House and Senate Budget committees, the panels have proposed spending increases for many federal education programs. Nearly every program would receive at least a modest funding increase under their proposals.

The Administration had requested a 28 percent cut in the Education Department’s budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

“The President’s request [is] the largest proposed percentage reduction in the budget for any federal program,’' noted the Democratic majority on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The committee does not believe that reductions of this magnitude can be sustained by the nation or would be approved by the Congress,’' the Democratic members said in their report.

Opening Offers

Similiar reports have also been submitted by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, the House Education and Labor Committee, and the House Appropriations panel.

The reports, required under federal budget procedures, are the beginning of a process of negotiation between the authorization and appropriations panels and the House and Senate Budget committees. The documents are regarded as the funding and authorizing committees’ opening offers to the budget panels, which are responsible for setting overall budget priorities.

By the end of this month, the budget panels must produce a “concurrent resolution’’ that sets spending targets for all federal programs. Usually, those targets are considerably lower than the requests submitted by the funding and authorizing committees.

But in the Senate, at least, the report of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Education Department and youth-related programs in other agencies may carry more weight than usual. The chairman of that panel, Senator Lawton Chiles, Democrat of Florida, also heads the Senate Budget Committee. Mr. Chiles has been a staunch supporter of education programs.

Modest Increase Proposed

The Senate Appropriation subcommittee’s report calls for a modest funding increase for the agencies under its control, which also include the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

The report, however, notes that pending bills, such as proposals aimed at boosting the nation’s economic competitiveness, could require higher spending levels.

In its report, the Democratic majority on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee proposes a $2.2-billion increase in budget authority for education. The Pell Grant program would receive an additional $900 million, while the mathematics-science program created by the Congress three years ago would get $345 million.

Education for the handicapped would also receive a major funding increase under the committee’s proposal. The report suggests adding $195 million to support programs serving infants and preschool children. The Administration has proposed abolishing those programs, which were approved by the Congress last year.

The committee’s report would also set aside $50 million for demonstration projects in dropout prevention, and funding for several new education initiatives, such as special programs aimed at homeless children.

In a cover letter to the report, the committee’s Democratic members said the request reflected their “unanimous judgment of the resources necessary to redress six years of neglect of pressing national needs.’'

While ranking Senate Republicans on the Labor and Human Resources panel urged the Budget Committee to hold the line on spending, their counterparts on the Appropriations panel called for even higher increases than those proposed by the Democrats.

The estimates of spending needs proposed by the Democrats, the Republicans on the Appropriations Committee said in a dissenting statement, ranged from “grossly inadequate,’' to “insufficient.’'

‘Priority’ Increases Sought

In the House, Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee also called for spending increases in some areas, but castigated committee Democrats for refusing to endorse cuts in any of the programs under the panel’s jurisdiction.

“We believe the majority of the Education and Labor Committee has abdicated its authority for the third year in a row,’' minority members said in a separate report.

In their own message to the Budget Committee, the Democrats, led by the Education and Labor chairman, Augustus F. Hawkins of California, declined to suggest specific dollar amounts for education and youth-related spending.

They did, however, urge the budget panel to maintain current funding for most programs, while adding money to “high priority’’ efforts, such as the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program.

“The committee believes that at least two of its initiatives--education and training for American competitiveness and welfare reform--will likely require significant new investments,’' the majority report states. “It also believes that these new initiatives should not be funded at the expense of existing programs.’'

Although critical of this stand, committee Republicans lined up solidly with the majority in strong opposition to the Administration’s proposal to eliminate all federal funding for vocational education.

“In the face of the nation’s mounting trade deficit, we must redouble our efforts to initiate constructive change, rather than eliminate [the federal] role all together,’' the Republicans’ report says.

In their report, members of the House Appropriations Committee revealed little of their own spending proposals. The committee generally limited its comments to a review of the Administration’s budget plan.

But the panel did note that a number of the proposed cuts, such as those in vocational education, have been repeatedly rejected by the Congress.

“In the past,’' the report states, “Congress has strongly supported federal aid to vocational education.’'

Committee members appeared especially unreceptive to the Administration’s proposal to cut nearly $900 million from school-lunch programs and other child-nutrition efforts.

Because such cuts have been rejected so decisively in the past, the report says, the committee “must consider the budget requests deficient by amounts equal to the proposed ... reductions.’'

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 1987 edition of Education Week as Congressional Panels Outline Education Budget Priorities