Committee Praises E.D. Shift On Budget; Assails Tax Credits
Washington--Members of a House appropriations subcommittee told Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and several of his top aides last week that they "have come a long way in the right direction" in proposing a $13.2-billion budget for the Education Department in the upcoming fiscal year.
But while the Congressmen expressed general satisfaction with the Reagan Administration's education budget request for the fiscal year 1984, they also expressed displeasure with the Administration's proposals to establish a program of tuition tax credits, to convert part of the Chapter 1 program into a voucher system, and to restructure the way that the government distributes aid to college students.
"It's good to see that you in the department have come around on the budget issue," William H. Natcher, the Kentucky Democrat who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education, told Mr. Bell during a hearing before the panel last week.
"I asked [federal budget director David A.] Stockman about this, and he said that the Administration just recognized what the members of this committee showed it in the appropriations bill last year," he said. "You've come a long way."
Temporary Funding Measure
Last year, the Administration proposed a $9.95-billion budget for the department in fiscal 1983 that incurred the wrath of many Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of the Congress. They approved a temporary funding measure late last year that sets spending for the department in the current fiscal year at approximately $15.1 billion.
Secretary Bell acknowledged that last year's budget battles forced the Administration to accept several "realities" regarding the state of the economy, the mood of the Congress, and the perilous financial condition of the states.
The Administration's proposed budget represents "an awareness that the nation's economic recession has been deeper and longer than we had originally expected," he said. "We also know now that the states will not be able to pick up all of the difference created by cuts at the federal level. This budget also reflects the realities of what the Congress will do."
The Congressmen, however, faulted the President's plan to rescind $134 million from the current $3.1-billion appropriation for the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged students and to give state and local boards of education the option of providing services under the program through a system of education vouchers.
Of the rescission request, Representative Joseph D. Early, Democrat of Massachusetts, said: "You say that you can reduce funds and still provide the same quality education. That's double talk. The bottom line is that the federal government will not do as much as it did before for disadvantaged children. You're doing this with mirrors."
The department officials explained that the rescission request stemmed from last year's battle over Chapter 1 allocations to the states and Secretary Bell's decision to base those allocations on 1970 census data.
A number of states that would have received more Chapter 1 dollars had the allocations been based on 1980 data unsuccessfully attempted to sue the Secretary in federal district court to force him to use the newer figures.
To settle the problem, the Congress approved a $148-million supplemental appropriation for the program, which ensured that all states would receive the maximum amount that they were eligible for under either the 1970 or 1980 data.
But late last year when legislators approved the continuing resolution that set funding for the department in the current fiscal year, the "additional" Chapter 1 dollars remained in the total appropriation for the program. The department officials said that this should have been a"one-time-only" appropriation, not to be carried over into the next fiscal year.
Several panel members also voiced their displeasure after the department officials indicated that state boards of education would be allowed to order local school boards to distribute their Chapter 1 dollars as educational vouchers under the Administration's voucher proposal.
"What you're telling me is that local boards would not have the option of refusing to participate if their state board told them to participate," said Representative Bernard J. Dwyer, Democrat of New Jersey. "That totally contradicts everything that you've been saying about enhancing local control."
Representative Edward R. Roybal, Democrat of California, also criticized the Administration's plan to reduce funding for the migrant, handicapped, and neglected-and-delinquent-youth programs under Chapter 1.
"I don't think that education will be enhanced by these proposals," he said.