$2.5 Billion in Cuts Proposed for Education Budget: Vocational Aid Is Halved; Smaller Programs Dropped

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The Reagan Administration's fiscal 1987 budget proposes sharp cuts in aid for vocational and higher education, but increased funds for education research and efforts to improve teaching.

Under the spending plan sent to a largely skeptical Congress last week, the Education Department's budget next year would be $15.2 billion. That figure is $3.2 billion less than the current Congressional appropriation, and $2.5 billion below the reduced levels required in fiscal 1986 by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law. The department's budget proposal--the first prepared under Secretary of Education William J. Bennett--would hold most major school-aid accounts at or near current levels.

Some programs--including Chapter 1 compensatory-education funds, Chapter 2 block grants to states, and bilingual education--would be restored to the levels set before the recent 4.3 percent cuts mandated by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.

Overall, the Administration proposes $994 billion in federal spending--about $32 billion below current-service levels--with a deficit of $143.6-billion. The deficit-reduction law set a $144-billion deficit ceiling for fiscal 1987.

The budget proposal would slash the current deficit by more than $40- billion, mainly through deep reductions in domestic spending, the elimination of scores of programs, and a strategy of "privatization"-the sale of certain government assets to the private sector. At the same time, the Administration is calling for a sharp rise in defense spending.

Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders have already described the budget as "dead on arrival." Many lawmakers have said a tax hike will be necessary to achieve significant deficit reductions-an option adamantly opposed by President Reagan.

Administration officials have downplayed the possibility of an early "grand compromise" with the Congress on the budget issue. The stage is thus set for a major confrontation.

Disagreement on Impact

Officials in the legislative and executive branches have expressed sharply divergent opinions on the budget plan's likely impact on education.

The Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, said it is "inhumane and fiscally unsound to balance the budget by sacrificing the education, health, and well-being of our youth."

Mr. Bennett, however, minimized aid programs now administered by the effects of the proposed reductions, noting that federal dollars account for only 7 percent of expenditures on education nationwide. He also asserted that the economic recovery has made it easier for state and local governments to increase aid to schools.

"As a result of the improved economy and the national focus on education," the Secretary said at a press conference, "states and localities have decided to increase their education spending in recent years and are continuing to do so."

Another senior department official characterized the education spending plan as "intellectually focused and coherent."

The department is requesting $5-billion for the office of elementary dents. These changes could result in and secondary education, slightly above the current $4.9-billion total.

The $2.5-billion reduction in 1987 would be achieved by eliminating $1 billion in funds already appropriated for 1986--cuts known as rescissions--and by making $1.5 billion in new cuts.

If its proposals tor next year are adopted, the Administration projects a steady decline in the department's spending to $14 billion by fiscal 1991.

New Directions

Despite fiscal constraints, Mr. Bennett is proposing at least one new initiative for elementary and secondary education, as well as several clear reversals of previous funding priorities.

The new initiative--which Mr. Bennett called a "teacher training and improvement act"--would allocate $75 million for efforts to "improve the quality of the teaching profession." The proposal would broaden the department's current emphasis--required by the Education for Economic Security Act—on upgrading the quality of mathematics and science teachers.

The department would fold three programs, now funded at $52.2 million, into this new one.

Mr. Bennett is seeking to eliminate another teaching-related effort: the new $9.6-million Carl D. Perkins scholarship program aimed at encouraging top high-school students to enter the profession.

In a major shift reflecting Mr. Bennett's priorities, the budget for research and statistics-gathering would rise by more than $13 million, from $57 million to $70.2 million.

Within that total, according to Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, the department will ask the Congress to earmark $24.8-million for the research office, a $2.8-million increase; $18.3 million for statistics-gathering, a $5.5-million hike; $19.1 million for the programs for improvement of practice office, a $900,000 increase; and $8-million for the information office, $1.4 million more than the current level.

Explaining the increase, Mr. Bennett said research is a uniquely federal role in education, and "we simply can't do the research without the increase."

The total O.E.R.I. budget would fall from $179 million to the $70.2-million level because the department proposes to kill the public-library-aid programs now administered by the research office.

And in a reversal of an earlier position, the department has asked the Congress to maintain the $75-million appropriation for magnet-school aid. According to a senior department official, magnet schools have proved to be a successful “choice vehicle.” Increasing parental choice in their children’s schooling is a goal frequently emphasized by Mr. Bennett.

Deep Reductions

In another area targeted for significant cuts, the department would reduce funding for vocational education from $813 million to $408 million. The department is requesting a $210-million rescission in fiscal 1986 and an additional $194-million cut for fiscal 1987.

Grants to community-based organizations and for consumer and homemaker education that are included in the vocational-education budget would be eliminated, as would grants to states that are not specifically earmarked by law for the disadvantaged and handicapped.

A senior department official, explaining the rationale for seeking a reduction in vocational aid, said federal dollars would be more useful if directed toward general education in basic subjects.

Cuts 'Not Large'

The planned cut, the official noted, "while large from the point of view of our own budget, is not large" in relation to state and local contributions to vocational education and to Labor Department and private-sector job-training efforts.

The Labor Department's job-training programs, however, underwent reductions this year and are again slated for deep cuts in fiscal 1987.

Commenting on the vocational-aid cut, Dean Griffin, executive director of the American Vocational Association, said, "Their rationale is faulty, their logic is faulty, and their conclusions are faulty."

"It seems that the Secretary is ignoring the vast majority of working people in this nation," he added.

Some Cuts Restored

In other program areas, the 1987 budget would restore funds to some major school programs that were cut under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings mandate.

Chapter 1 compensatory education would be funded at $3.7 billion. Within this account, $61 million would be shifted from migrant education to grants to local educational agencies, which would then total $3.26 billion.

Mr. Bennett's budget reiterates his support for Chapter 1 vouchers and notes that the Administration again plans to introduce tuition tax-credit legislation to promote choice and tax equity for parents with children in private schools.

Chapter 2 block grants would again be funded at $500 million, and the budget again would allot $143 million for bilingual-education programs.

The budget proposal restates Mr. Bennett's intention to seek legislation allowing school districts to use bilingual-education fund, for any instructional method they wish.

Other Cuts Proposed

In addition, a variety of other department programs are marked for cutbacks or abolition:

  • Special-education funds would be reduced from their current level of $1.35 billion--which includes the first round of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts--to $1.3 billion.
    Moreover, the department is requesting a $28-million rescission in grants to states but a $2.3-million increase in preschool-incentive grants.
    Department officials, in their budget proposal and in a subsequent briefing, expressed concern about the increasing number of students classified as learning-disabled--an issue that a department panel is now studying.
    But they said they are unlikely to propose a federal initiative in this area.
  • As it has proposed unsuccessfully in the past, the Administration would eliminate $124.4 million in impact aid "E" payments to districts where parents live or work on federal installations.
  • Many smaller programs are also marked for abolition, including $28.7 million in emergency immigrant-education aid, the $5.7-million Women's Educational Equity Program, $23 million for civil-rights technical assistance, $1.7 million for Ellender Fellowships, and the $7.2-million Follow Through program.

Other Programs

Other federal agencies manage programs that affect schools and the ability of state and local governments to finance education. Proposals for such programs include:

  • Child nutrition. The Agriculture Department would cut $775-million from programs in this area.
  • Asbestos abatement. The Environmental Protection Agency would drop the $44-million grant program that helps schools in this effort.
  • Head Start. The Health and Human Services Department's budget would maintain the program's funding at slightly more than $1 billion.
  • Science and mathematics education. The National Science Foundation's budget would rise from $1.35 billion to nearly $1.5 billion, and the amount earmarked for education would increase from $409-million to $449 million.
  • Arts and humanities. The National Endowment for the Humanities would see its budget fall from $139 million to $126 million. Spending for the National Endowment for the Arts would fall from $158.5 million to $145 million.
  • Revenue-sharing. The Administration again seeks to abolish the $4.1-billion federal program distributing unrestricted aid to states and localities. More than $300 million of this money is spent for education.

Vol. 05, Issue 22, Pages 1, 13-14, 16

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