Senate Budget Plan Would Trim Education Funds

By James Hertling — April 02, 1986 4 min read


When the Senate returns from its Easter recess next week, it will consider a fiscal 1987 budget plan that would reduce the amount available for education and social services by $1.3 billion.

The budget resolution recommends a $100-million cut in the $506-million Chapter 2 program but provides a $400-million pot of money to compensate for inflation in unidentified “high priority programs.” These would include Chapter 1, Head Start, education of the handicapped, and Pell Grants, along with other programs aimed at the poor.

The resolution sets the guidelines for the appropriations committees, which make final funding decisions. It recommends $30.8 billion for education and social services for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that $32.1 billion would be necessary to maintain current spending; both the committee plan and the C.B.O. estimate include the first round of cuts made under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law.

The Reagan Administration strongly opposes the plan, a bipartisan effort that would allow an inflation increase for military spending, raise new taxes, and restore cuts in domestic spending sought by the Administration. The plan meets the budget-balancing law’s requirement for a $144-billion deficit.

Hammered out in negotiations by the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Pete V. Domenici, and its ranking Democrat, Lawton B. Chiles, the budget resolution cleared the committee by a vote of 13 to 9 in mid-March.

But the budget resolution’s recommendations are “too low for education,” charged Susan Frost, executive director of the Committee for. Education Funding, an umbrella group. She said her organization was preparing an amendment to restore education cuts.

The budget committee, when drafting the resolution, defeated by an 11-to-9 vote a $1.8-billion amendment that would have restored cuts in education programs mandated by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and allowed for an inflation increase.

Ms. Frost further criticized the committee resolution because it assumes cuts that the appropriations committee are unlikely to enact, casting doubt on the usefulness of the $400 million earmarked for the “high-priority programs.”

Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee, closely watching the Senate response to the resolution’s call for new taxes, will not begin publicly drafting its version of the resolution until later this month.

After months of uncertainty and inaction, the Congress has passed and sent to President Reagan a modest $18-billion three-year deficit-reduction bill containing a provision that could prove costly to some large school districts.

The provision in the bill, H R 3128, mandates Medicare coverage for teachers and other public employees hired after March 31.

This measure however, is less onerous than the Senate-passed version that would have required Medicare coverage for all public employees.

The law, which President Reagan is expected to sign, also permanently extends the 16-cent-a-pack cigarette tax and includes an 8-cent tax on smokeless tobacco products.

Federally funded educational laboratories, which had indicated their willingness to accept an Education Department request to return $459,000, appear to be reconsidering their position.

A spokesman for the labs, E. Joseph Schneider, asserting that the department has altered its own stance, charged that the officials are engaging in “continued harassment” of the labs.

Department officials could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Schneider, executive director of the Center for Educational Development and Research, an umbrella group of labs and centers, was responding to a letter received by lab officials last week that attempted to clarify the department’s position.

Previously, the office of educational research and improvement asked the labs to return 2.74 percent of their fiscal 1986 allocation, or $459,000, to help the office weather cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law and, in particular, avoid deep cuts in the budget for research on teaching. (See Education Week, March 19, 1986.)

Lab officials had said they would return the money and recommended that it be used for a companion to the recent department publication “What Works.”

But in the latest letter, a mid-level O.E.R.I. official, David Mack, told the labs that while the “What Works” idea was “intriguing,” the request was “intended to result in money being directly returned to—never drawn from—the U.S. Treasury ... consistent with the intent of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.”

But, Mr. Schneider noted, the cuts were enacted March 1, so money returned by the labs “is not going back to the Treasury but ... into Checker’s pocket,” referring to Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for O.E.R.I.

With the controversy unfolding, Mr. Schneider now says, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 02, 1986 edition of Education Week

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