Clinton Urges 3.8% Increase for E.D. Programs

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President Clinton last week requested a 3.8 percent spending increase for Education Department programs in a 1996 budget request that stresses job training and expanding direct student lending, while proposing to eliminate or consolidate 68 education programs to save $756 million.

Mr. Clinton's spending plan for the year beginning Oct. 1 would increase the department's discretionary spending to $24 billion, $818 million more than revised 1995 levels. At the same time, however, total spending would drop $1.4 billion, to $30.4 billion, as a result of projections of lower interest costs for student loans.

Education advocates have sharply criticized other Presidents over more generous budgets. But they fear worse results from the new Republican majority in Congress, and offered muted support for Mr. Clinton's plan. "It seems to us that, based on the times we're in, this is a very respectable position," said John B. Forkenbrock, the president of the Committee for Education Funding.

Mr. Clinton proposes to concentrate increases in spending on a group of programs, many of them Administration proposals enacted by the last Congress, that he considers part of his "lifelong learning" agenda.

That includes $7.2 billion for Title 1, $208 million more than last year; $750 million for the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, a $347 million increase; $735 million for Eisenhower professional-development programs, $415 over last year; and $20 million for charter schools, a $14 million increase.

The Head Start preschool program would receive a $400 million increase under Mr. Clinton's budget, to $3.9 billion.

Big losers in the President's budget include the block grant formerly known as Chapter 2, which would not be funded, and impact aid, which would drop by $109 million, or 15 percent, to $619 million, on top of significant cuts this year.

The Budget Losers

Mr. Clinton also proposed using rescissions to terminate 16 relatively small education programs in the current fiscal year--including the Teacher Corps, Ellender fellowships, and dropout-prevention demonstrations--and killing 21 others in 1996.

Mr. Clinton proposed merging the Even Start program, which provides education and social services to disadvantaged preschoolers and their families, with several other literacy and job-training programs into a $479 million block-grant program.

Colleges and universities would lose about $61 million through a two-year phase-out of State Student Incentive Grants.

Some school advocates were particularly upset at the Administration's proposal to cut $100 million in school-construction funds as part of a spending-cut package that would slice $223 million from current appropriations. G.O.P. lawmakers already plan to outline their own 1995 rescission plan.

A recent General Accounting Office report found that U.S. schools need $112 billion in facilities upgrades or repairs.

Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin said last week that the Administration's proposal to cut the facilities funding is being reconsidered. ~"I can't say any more about it," she added.

Public Backing Cited

Despite the cuts, Mr. Forkenbrock noted that the President's budget could be the "high water" mark for 1996 education appropriations. Indeed, Republican leaders have already criticized the President's $1.61 trillion budget for not cutting spending further.

At a briefing last week, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley cited recent polls that show the majority of Americans back education spending. "Our economic prosperity, our national security, and our civic life have never been more linked to education than they are today," he said.

Several new initiatives in the budget focus on job training. Mr. Clinton's proposed "bill for America's workers" would merge 70 job-search and training programs into a "better jobs and skills system," to be administered jointly by state agencies and the Education and Labor departments.

The Administration proposed rolling funding for several youth-employment and training programs into a new block grant, funded at $2.7 billion, that is designed to complement the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. The existing school-to-work program would get a total of $400 million, divided between the Education and Labor departments.

Some $3.6 billion would fund "skill grants" for low-income workers in non-degree programs. About $2.1 billion would be transferred from the amount that would otherwise be allocated for Pell Grants, which can now be used for such programs, as well as for college expenses. To reflect that proposed change, the Education Department revised its 1995 budget totals downward.

The President also would raise the maximum Pell Grant by $280, to $2,620, and set the maximum skill grant at the same level. Overall funding for the grants would increase from $2.5 billion to $8.5 billion.

Advocates for proprietary schools that offer non-degree programs have long resisted any attempt to sever grants for their students from college-aid programs. In addition, higher-education officials worry that shifting Pell Grant funds to the Labor Department could eventually take away funds from needy, traditional degree candidates.

"This is a new program, and we would like to see funds transferred, but significantly less until the program is up and running," said Ed M. Elmendorf, the vice president of government relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Direct Lending Touted

The skill grants are featured in Mr. Clinton's proposed "Middle Class Bill of Rights," which also includes tax deductions for college or job training, tax credits for families with children, and tax-free withdrawals from individual retirement accounts for education and other purposes.

To help meet a price tag of $60 billion over five years, Mr. Clinton is urging rapid expansion of federal direct lending. His budget projects a $12 billion savings by 2000 if the Education Department could process 80 percent of loan volume under the new system by 1997 and 100 percent by 1998.

Direct lending lets borrowers get loans from the government though their schools, bypassing lending institutions. Lending-industry officials are fighting the plan and argue that the Education Department cannot manage such rapid expansion.

"The President's plan would eliminate any choice or options for schools and remove private-sector competition that is spurring continually better service for schools," Daniel S. Cheever Jr., the chairman of the Coalition for Student Loan Reform, said in a statement.

The Education Department budget also offers the first glimpses of the Administration's proposals for upcoming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act.

For example, the Administration plans to propose consolidating the 14 currentI.D.E.A. authorities into five. The budget includes $254 million for these activities, the same amount provided in 1995 for the 14 current programs. The bulk of the funds would be earmarked for professional development, research and demonstrations, and technical assistance.

The Administration also wants to increase total funding for basic special-education grants and preschool grants by $89.3 million to nearly $2.8 billion.

According to the budget, the President will propose merging 12 programs under the Perkins Act into two line items earmarked for state grants and "national programs," such as research and demonstrations. The Administration requested $1.2 billion for the new programs, the same as the current programs got in 1995.

Vol. 14, Issue 21

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