$21.2-Billion Budget Boosts Major Programs
Washington--For only the second time in his eight-year tenure, President Reagan has proposed an increase in federal education spending.
The fiscal 1989 budget he unveiled last week requests a $900-million hike for Education Department programs, to $21.2 billion. That figure includes significant increases for Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Pell Grants, and education research.
The budget contains only a handful of proposed cuts--most notably in impact aid--and no big surprises like last year's proposal to eliminate vocational-education funding.
It makes no requests for recissions from the prior year's budget, although Education Department officials said last week that such requests may be made later.
"As I said last year, if circumstances were different, we would be proposing a different budget; and circumstances are different," said Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.
"The President has decided to make education a priority, there is more room to move because of the summit agreement [between the White House and the Congress],inued on Page 17
A $21.2-Billion Budget
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and Gramm-Rudman targets are pressing less," Mr. Bennett said.
Other department officials said the proposal resulted from a convergence of two factors: the economic-summit agreement with the Congress and Mr. Bennett's success in making education "a more pressing issue" within the Administration.
The summit agreement calls for a $12-billion reduction in the federal budget deficit in fiscal 1989 and limits growth in both defense and domestic spending to 2 percent.
Given those limitations, department officials said, the Administration's domestic priorities were anti-drug programs, efforts related to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and education programs, which are slated for an increase of more than 4 percent.
Countering 'Money Mob'
Mr. Bennett said he was also motivated by a desire to take the budget issue away from his critics in the Congress and the education community, which he characterized as "the money mob."
"We do not want to waste time with a budget proposal that no one in Congress takes seriously," the Secretary said. "It seems to give whining rights to the usual people."
The strategy may work. Education advocates last week termed the proposal a major improvement, although they added that it still does not go far enough.
Higher-education groups even canceled the sidewalk press conference outside the Education Department that had become almost a tradition on the day the budget is released.
"This is obviously a much better budget than we have seen from the Administration for a number of years," said Richard F. Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "It begins to sound like a reasonable budget."
But the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of 100 education organizations, called for a $22.8-billion education budget in a letter to the Congress.
"I think the needs are considerably greater than what the department is proposing," said Michael Casserly, legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the unholy alliance on the budget makes it difficult to bust out of the artificial caps" on spending.
Congressional leaders were more enthusiastic about the Administration's change of heart, though some pledged to fight for still more education funding.
Senator Lawton M. Chiles Jr., Democrat of Florida, said in a letter to colleagues that the 1989 budget "represents what may be the most realistic starting point of any budget presented during this Administration."
Mr. Chiles, who is chairman of both the Budget Committee and the Appropriations subcommitee with jurisdiction over education, added that the plan's education component is "drastically different but substantially better than last year's."
He and other legislators specifically praised proposed increases for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Pell Grants, and programs for handicapped students.
Chapter 1 funding would increase from $4.33 billion to $4.56 billion. Most of that increase would come in the form of local grants, including $154 million in concentration grants for districts with especially heavy concentrations of needy students, a provision that will be added by pending reauthorization legislation.
Pell Grants would rise from $4.26- billion to $5 billion, and special-education funding would increase by $4- million, to $1.9 billion. Funding for handicapped-education grants, preschool grants, and the early-intervention-services program would all be increased.
"It took seven years, but it looks like the President has finally submitted a budget request for education that we can live with," said Senator Robert T. Stafford of Vermont, the education subcommittee's ranking Republican.
"While I am disappointed in the declining funding proposed for important programs, such as impact aid, libraries, and direct loans, the overall budget is a good one," said Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, the subcommittee's chairman.
Impact aid, which compensates school districts for revenue lost because of federal activities there, is the only large precollegiate program slated for cuts.
Mirroring its previous, unsuccessful proposals, the Administration requested no funding for "b" districts, whose students either live on federal property or have parents who work there. Other funding would increase, but the program would be cut by $116 million overall.
'Not Politically Dumb'
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, said the budget proposal "is a good first step, but clearly not enough," and vowed to "press for funding over and above the President's request."
Mr. Hawkins also asserted, as did several lobbyists, that the proposal was made to assist Republicans in an election year.
"We should be involved in a Presidential election campaign everyel10lyear, since that event seems to be the only way to get this Administration to commit additional funding for the nation's schools," he said.
The last time the Administration proposed an increase in education funding--1984--was also an election year, as well as a year of increased public interest in education, spurred by the landmark report, A Nation at Risk.
Former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell requested a $900-million hike, to $15.5 billion, in 1984, and the Congress appropriated $17.9 billion.
Mr. Bennett acknowledged that proposing an increased education4budget "is not politically dumb," but denied that the move was "driven" by electoral concerns.
"The Secretary does believe there's no point in handing this weapon time and time again to the Democrats," a senior Education Department official added.
Some education advocates said it was hard for them to heap praise on a proposal that they characterized as hypocritical in light of the Administration's past actions.
"I don't sleep with anybody on the first date," Mr. Casserly said. "They've got to care about you for a longer time before you can muster up any affection."
Vol. 07, Issue 22