Federal Budget Cuts Moderate This Year; Congress Acts to Limit Future Spending

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Even as President Reagan signed into law the fiscal 1982 budget package, including a total of $2.12 billion in cuts for education programs, he acknowledged that this year's cuts represent only the first of a series of reductions he intends to make in federal spending for such programs.

“Remember that we always said that there were further budget cuts for the coming years, for '83 and '84," he remarked during the bill-signing ceremony this month at his California ranch.

Similarly, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell warned recently not only that federal education programs will be forced to "retrench a bit" in the next few years, but also that in general they will experience "more and more consolidation."

"We're not stopping here," Mr. Bell told chief state school officers at their meeting in Colorado Springs.

"Here," for the federally mandated and funded education programs that have been expanding annually since 1965, is a dramatic turning point-marked by an omnibus budget bill that restricts the growth of federal education support for the first time in modern history, and shifts some responsibilities to the states.

Specifically, the 1982 budget package reduces education funding by 12 percent. Although the cut is smaller than the ambitious 27 percent slash sought by Mr. Reagan, the giant budget bill passed by Congress in July also contains provisions that will hold funding for major education programs at current levels through 1984.

The new budget imposes "caps"--maximum funding levels--on the largest of the government's education programs: Title I, vocational education, impact aid, handicapped education, bilingual education, and adult education. Under the new budgetary guidelines, these programs are scheduled for further reductions in the next two years, in which Mr. Reagan says he plans overall budget cuts totaling $30 billion (fiscal 1983) and $44.2 billion (fiscal 1984).

In addition, Secretary Bell's proposal to convert the Education Department into a foundation along the lines of the National Science Foundation may change even further the way federal education programs are funded and administered.

Block Grants Proposal Diluted

Mr. Reagan's original proposal to reorganize almost all federal education programs into two packages of block grants to the states was considerably diluted this summer when Congress bowed before the pressure to reduce spending but fought off part of the block-grants consolidation along with other programmatic changes the President sought.

However, even Mr. Reagan's harshest critics admitted that he had been more successful than any president in modern times in persuading legislators to make major changes in significant programs. What Mr. Reagan wanted, and got, from Congress in the area of education was support for:

  • Reducing impact aid, which every President since Dwight D. Eisenhower has unsuccessfully tried to cut;
  • Deregulating Title I, which local and state administrators complain requires an excessive amount of paperwork:
  • Consolidating 28 programs into block grants, a process that will include shrinking some 133 pages of governing regulations down to a handful.

Impact Aid Reduced

The impact aid program is immensely popular in Congress, in part because it provides funds to school systems in 427 Congressional districts. It is also a popular target for fiscal conservatives, because the money is given out without regard to a school system's financial need.

President Reagan proposed a huge cut for impact aid--47 percent of the current $757-million funding level. And the Administration made shrewd use of the budget "reconciliation" process to see that the reduction was carried out. Impact aid was slashed to $475 million, with $75 million of that transferred to the Department of Defense budget.

A smaller-scale victory for the President was scored on Title I. The Administration had favored combining the compensatory education program with adult education, bilingual education, and parts of handicapped education and emergency school aid, into a $3.6-billion package of block grants to local school systems.

But the Congress, with bipartisan agreement, voted to continue funding those programs separately, as it has done in previous years.

Title I Repealed

Members agreed, however, to repeal the 52-page Title I legislation--which was the keystone of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1965 education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress replaced it with Part I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Program Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981. The new act was accompanied by six pages of authorizing legislation; Title I's documentation ran to more than 54 pages.

Most observers agree that the full extent of changes in Title I programs won't be apparent until later this year, when streamlined Title I regulations are issued.

The block-grants package of 28 programs forms Part II of the new education legislation. It represents a first step in Mr. Reagan's plan to include education in his philosophy of "federalism."

First, the Administration was able to secure a 3 percent reduction in funding for the package, down from $610 million as separate programs last year to $589 million in 1982.

Mr. Reagan's next step is deregulation: Secretary Bell already has repealed the regulations governing the affected programs, and he recently appointed a group of Education Department officials to begin writing new ones. Like those for Title I, the block-grants regulations are expected to be only a few pages in length, with considerable latitude given to states for dispensing the funds.

The block grants include many programs most frequently attacked by conservatives as examples of excessive government spending for education: metric education, consumer education, population education, ethnic heritage education. They also include a few programs that are regarded as excellent or necessary, such as the gifted and talented program, school libraries funds, and basic skills education.

Future Actions Uncertain

As President Reagan and Secretary Bell indicate, the Administration will propose sending more programs to states, at reduced funding levels, in the future.

Will the Congress legislate further changes in the federal role in education? If education proposals are incorporated with other programs into a huge package, offered during budget reconciliation next spring, as was this year's $35 billion in cuts, there will be scant time for analysis and debate.

But Congress, which refused to go along with Mr. Reagan's wholesale reorganization of federal education programs this year, could block similarly drastic attempts in the future.

Two groups probably will play a large role in helping decide the fate of federal education programs in the next few years: House and Senate Republicans who substituted a modified block-grants bill for the Administration's proposal last June; and the states, which this year will assume greater responsibility--both fiscal and programmatic--for elementary and secondary education.

Vol. 01, Issue 00, Page 11

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