Congress Gives Tentative Nod To Education Funding Hike
The Congress has resisted the Reagan Administration's proposals for major cuts in federal aid to education, giving tentative approval to a fiscal 1987 budget that would add $2 billion to current spending levels.
Also, in key spending votes this past summer, lawmakers approved substantial funding increases for, among other things, Chapter 1 assistance to disadvantaged students, education for the handicapped, and Pell "self-help" grants to undergraduates.
The increases are contained in separate versions of a fiscal 1987 appropriations bill (H R 5233) approved by the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee. The measure also would, for most education programs, restore the $678-million cut last March under the provisions of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law.
The gains could be reversed this month, when the law's automatic deficit-reduction machinery is scheduled to switch on again and as the I Congress begins clearing final spending bills before fiscal 1987 begins on Oct. 1. But education lobbyists are optimistic that further across-the-board reductions can be averted.
Projections by the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, announced Aug. 20, put the federal deficit at $163.4 billion for next year-$9.4 billion over the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings "trigger" for mandatory cuts in all federal discretionary spending.
Unless the Congress comes up with that amount through increased revenues or reduced outlays, the Education Department budget would be pared by $1.1 billion-a 7.6 percent reduction in every program account- the O.M.B. and C.B.O. say.
But with only six weeks to go before Congressional elections, lawmakers are likely to find a way to "finesse" the requirement for arbitrary, unpopular cuts, said Richard Jerue, president of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of more than 100 education associations.
"I think Gramm-Rudman-Hollings really won't have an impact this year," he added, noting that the House-Senate agreement on tax revision, while "revenue-neutral" over five years, is estimated to produce an $11-billion windfall in fiscal 1987.
"Next year is going to be the crazy year, when everything will come home to roost," he said. The 1988 deficit ceiling under Gramm-RudmanHollings will be $36 billion lower than in 1987, while the tax bill is projected to cut revenues by $17 billion.
For the coming fiscal year, Mr. Jerue said, education lobbyists were "very pleased" with the Congressional budget accord reached in late June and subsequent House and Senate action on appropriations.
The $1.093-trillion federal-budget resolution includes an increase of about $2 billion in aid to education-the exact figure is subject to interpretation--over the $17.7-billion level set for fiscal 1986 after the first round of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts. The Administration's proposal was $15.2 billion.
As approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, next year's education spending would total $19 billion. The House has passed a $13.4-billion bill, which postponed the funding of post-secondary programs pending a House-Senate agreement on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Final appropriations totals will be worked out by a House-Senate conference committee, perhaps as early as late this month.
The House version of H R 5233 would provide $3.99 billion for Chapter I - the largest appropriation in the program's 20-year history- up from the current level of $3.53 billion. The Senate panel approved $3.89 billion, while the Administration proposed $3.69 billion.
A substantial increase in compensatory- education funds is warranted in light of recent research findings that as few as one-third of children who are eligible for Chapter 1 are being served, according to the Senate committee's report on the bill. Education Department officials have maintained that 75 percent to 80 percent of those who qualify are receiving services.
The Senate version features a major boost in spending for programs for the handicapped-$1.74 billion, up from $1.35 billion currently. The Senate figure is $248 million above the House-approved appropriation and $439 million above the Administration's request.
Much of the increase for special education would go for "preschool-incentive grants" designed to encourage school districts to serve handicapped students under age 6 and for an "early-intervention program" for handicapped infants.
The Senate committee also voted to increase the Pell-grant program by $322 million-$650 million above the Administration's proposal-to $3.9 billion. The House has yet to approve an amount for Pen grants.
Part of the Senate's proposed increase is aimed at eliminating a funding shortfall that threatened to cut existing grants for this school year. In June, the Congress partially remedied the crisis by enacting a $146-million supplemental appropriation.
Also, the Senate's 1987 proposal would provide $50 million less than the House bill for impact aid to compensate school districts for the effects of federal installations on their local tax bases. And it would eliminate funding for emergency immigrant assistance under the Bilingual Education Act. The House voted to appropriate $30 million for the program.
Vocational-education programs, targeted for a 46 percent cut by the Administration, appear likely to receive a modest increase in fiscal 1987. The House approved $1.016 billion, compared with the Senate committee's $943 million and the current level of $900 million.
Chapter 2 block grants to states would receive a $21-million increase, to $500 million next year, one of the few line items agreed upon by all three sides.
Deficit reduction will be at the top of the lawmakers' agenda when they return this week. Under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, they face a mid-September deadline to come under the budget ceiling or to enact across-the- board cuts.
On July 7, the Supreme Court inI validated the law's automatic mecha~ nism for imposing cuts. The role of the comptroller general, an employee of the Congress, in the deficit-cutting process represents an unconstitutional infringement of Presidential authority, the Court ruled in Bowsher v. Syruzr (Case No. 85-1377).
The Senate later voted to "repair" the faulty mechanism by giving the director of the O.M.B. the authority to make the cuts. But the House has resisted the solution.
Under a "fallback" provision in the law, House and Senate budget committees must report a resolution making the across-the-board cuts by Sept. 13, and both chambers must vote on it within five days. If passed, it must be signed by the President before the cuts can take effect.
The process would repeat itself after the C.B.O_ and O.M.B. update I their deficit projections on Oct. 1- unless the Congress finds other means to draw down the level of red ink to $154 billion for fiscal 1987.
In addition to the' added revenue that would flow from the tax-revision bill, if passed in its current form, the Congress has been working on "budget- reconciliation" measures that would reap additional savings.
And further cuts could be made in 13 spending bills for 1987, which are expected to be consolidated in an omnibus "continuing resolution."
Vol. 01, Issue 06, Pages 16, 18