Spending Measure Boosts Education Funding

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President Clinton signed a spending bill last week that boosts discretionary funding for education to $29.4 billion, a hike of nearly 12 percent, but factors in a series of compromises worked out by the House and Senate in an overtime push to finish the fiscal 1998 budget.

The House passed the overall $277 billion Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill by a 352-65 vote on Nov. 7 after Republicans reached agreement with the White House on proposed new national tests. The Senate passed the bill, 91-4, the next day. ("Test Proposal To Be Tested By Experts," in This Week's News.)

The spending measure includes a total of $36.1 billion for education, but nearly $7 billion of that goes to mandated spending on such programs as student loans. The highlights in discretionary spending--those programs for which Congress annually sets funding levels--include sizable increases for special education and teacher professional development. But the plan barely raises spending for Title I, the biggest federal K-12 program, which serves schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students.

"I will have the privilege of signing into record books what is plainly the best year for American education in more than a generation," President Clinton said in signing the bill Nov. 13.

Fiscal 1998 Budget Picture

Federal education spending in the fiscal 1998 budget

Program Fiscal 1997 Fiscal 1998
Goals 2000: $491 million $491 million
School-to-work programs: $200 million $200 million
Technology Literacy Challenge Fund: $200 million $425 million
Title I: $7.79 billion $8.01 billion
Impact aid: $730 million $808 million
Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities: $556 million $556 million
Charter schools: $51 million $80 million
Bilingual education: $156.7 million $199 million
Special education state grants: $3.79 billion $4.53 billion

SOURCE: Department of Education.

The annual bill, which initially was due by Oct. 1, the start of the current fiscal year, became bogged down in debate over Mr. Clinton's plan for voluntary national reading and math tests and a failed proposal by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., to turn most federal education funding into block grants. The final result is a tangle of compromises between the White House and Republican leaders, with both sides claiming victory but neither getting everything it wanted.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the spending bill "followed the president's lead" by increasing funding in areas such as technology and special education.

The bill raises discretionary spending on education programs by $3.1 billion, or 11.78 percent, to $29.4 billion, just slightly above Mr. Clinton's requests. But that boost comes at the expense of several White House initiatives.

Republicans left their mark on the bill, which maintains fiscal 1997 spending levels for some of Mr. Clinton's priorities, such as Goals 2000, at $491 million, and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, at $556 million.

Weighing the Results

While House Republicans approved Mr. Clinton's request for a new literacy initiative, to be funded at $210 million pending its authorization by next April 1, they axed a $100 million plan to help pay for interest on school construction bonds. For now, the reading plan remains in limbo. The Senate is expected to take up its own version of a literacy bill early next year. ("Clinton Administration Shifts Gears on Reading Bill," in This Week's News.)

"There's some mixed blessings, but you can't look at $3.2 billion [sic] and say that's peanuts," said Jeff Simering, the legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based organization that represents 50 of the nation's largest urban districts. "It's a significant increase for education."

But local districts may not see the large increases they had hoped for in some programs.

Bruce Hunter, the government-relations director for the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., agreed that the budget brought "lots of good news" for education.

He said he was dismayed, though, at the lack of a significant increase for Title I. Overall funding for Title I increased from $7.79 billion to $8.01 billion, or about 2.8 percent, but grants to local education agencies increased less than 1 percent, from $7.30 billion to $7.38 billion. A new effort to promote comprehensive school reform, funded at $120 million through Title I, is designed to help schools use research and adopt model programs that have been shown to be effective.

Special Education Hike

Special education funding was a priority for several influential Republicans, including Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. The bill gives a 19.7 percent increase to special education state grants, from $3.78 billion in fiscal 1997 to $4.53 billion in fiscal 1998. The allotment "continues to make great strides toward meeting our obligations to state and local school districts," Mr. Goodling said in a speech on the House floor.

B. Joseph Ballard, assistant executive director for public policy at the Council for Exceptional Children in Reston, Va., said that the increase, coupled with the fiscal 1997 boost of nearly $800 million, represented the largest two-year increase for special education state grants since the original Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed in 1975.

Other big winners included:

  • The impact-aid program for districts affected by federal installations, which jumped to $808 million from $730 million;
  • The Eisenhower Professional Development state grants for teacher training, which increased from $310 million to $335 million;
  • Title VI block grants, funding with few strings attached that districts may put toward education reform, which increased from $310 million to $350 million; and
  • The Pell Grants program for needy college students, whose funding rose from $5.91 billion to $7.34 billion. The maximum Pell Grant will increase from $2,700 to $3,000 under the plan.

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