Final 1990 Budget Yields E.D. $24.15-Billion Total

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Washington--Peering through the slowly settling dust kicked up by the intense political battle over the 1990 budget, Education Department officials last week concluded that their agency would receive $24.15 billion for its programs this year.

Arriving at that seemingly straightforward figure, however, required a tortuous journey through the federal budget labyrinth.

The starting point was the appropriations bills, which allotted $24.42 billion for department programs.

Across-the-board spending cuts included in the budget-reconciliation agreement that President Bush was expected to sign last week, however, sliced $266.1 million from that total.

That cut represents about 1.1 percent of the department's budget, while the reconciliation bill called for a 1.4 percent "sequester."

The primary reason for that disparity is that cuts under the formula used by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law are computed from a "baseline," which consists of 1989 spending levels plus an inflation adjustment. But the reductions are then subtracted from the amounts included in appropriations bills, in which many education programs received increases in excess of the inflation rate.

Ax Fell Unevenly

Moreover, the Gramm-Rudman ax does not fall evenly on all programs--even those in the same agency.

The Stafford Student Loan program is not subject to automatic cuts, but savings are obtained through "special rules" that increase fees and decrease subsidies.

Cuts also are based on outlays--the amount actually spent in a given year--creating differences between programs whose money is spent on different schedules.

Finally, cuts are taken from "accounts" that may include several programs, affecting the fate of specific programs differentially.

For example, programs supporting migrant education and vocational-education research are cut by an identical $97,000 under the sequester, although the migrant-education program received an appropriation $872,000 higher. That is because the migrant program is in the same "account" as the Chapter 1 programs, which received a huge increase.

The 1.4 percent sequester was taken from the "baseline" for the entire "compensatory education" account, which is about $4.76 billion. But the sequester amount, $66.4 million, was subtracted from the account's appropriation of $5.43 billion and distributed proportionately among programs in the account. Therefore, the $854-million increase in Chapter 1's appropriation blunted cuts for the entire account.

A few programs, such as bilingual education and impact aid, were not reduced at all from the appropriated levels. Those appropriations are less than the amount left when a 1.4 percent cut is taken from their baseline amounts, in which case the appropriated levels are allowed to stand.

Chapter 2 block grants and mathematics and science grants were cut below 1989 levels because, while their appropriations were low, the "school-improvement programs" category as a whole--which includes drug efforts--received an increase.

The increase for anti-drug programs, like the Chapter 1 rise, blunts cuts for other programs in the category. But Chapter 2 would have fared better in its own category, as it received no more than it did in 1989 and would have been protected from cuts.

Vol. 09, Issue 14

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