Senate, Bush $3 Billion Apart On Education Spending

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A Senate panel has unanimously approved a spending bill for the 2003 fiscal year that would provide nearly $3 billion above President Bush's request for the Department of Education.

That action came the same week both chambers approved a compromise supplemental- spending bill that would add $1 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to help make up a shortfall in the Pell Grant program. As of last week, President Bush still had not signed the bill, but was expected to do so.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 25 passed its 2003 spending plan for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. The House is not expected to take action until after the August recess, just weeks before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Under the Senate committee's version, sizable increases would go to several programs in the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001. For instance, the bill contains $11.85 billion for the flagship Title I program for disadvantaged children, an increase of $1.5 billion over the current year and $500 million over what President Bush requested. It separately would provide $100 million for Title I schools identified as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The bill would provide $3.1 billion to improve teacher quality. That amount exceeds the current allotment by $250 million. President Bush has proposed to freeze spending for the program.

"If our schools are going to be held accountable for their performance under the No Child Left Behind Act, then they need the resources to meet these new, higher standards," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department budget. "I hope we can do even more as the process moves forward."

The Senate panel and Mr. Bush are in accord on a $1 billion hike in special education grants. Put off for now is a Harkin priority of so- called "full funding" of special education, which carries a much higher price tag.

The Senate panel declined to finance a few initiatives put forward by Mr. Bush, such as $50 million for a school choice pilot program and $100 million to help charter schools obtain or build facilities.

At the same time, the bill would preserve a series of programs that Mr. Bush has proposed to zero out in fiscal 2003. For instance, it provides $30 million for civic education, $32.5 million for school counseling, and $70 million for physical education.

The Bush administration sought to eliminate many of those same programs during last year's budget debate as well, but the programs were ultimately included as part of the final $48.9 billion for the Education Department.

The spending for the current year, fiscal 2002, represented a $6.7 billion increase over the previous year, a record rise in sheer dollars. If the supplemental bill becomes law, that record would now grow by $1 billion, thanks to the new money for Pell Grants.

Democratic Advantage

Congress faced substantial delays in passing the supplemental bill, which is largely dedicated to emergency measures stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. Finding common ground on the 13 spending bills needed to pay for the federal government for the coming fiscal year will be no easier.

Some education groups and congressional Democrats have contended that President Bush's $50.3 billion request for the Education Department—now just $400 million, or less than 1 percent, above the revised total for the current year— is not enough.

Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association, called the Senate action a "good step forward," but said he was hopeful the total might climb higher when the appropriations bill reaches the Senate floor. The full chamber won't consider the bill until after the August recess.

Meanwhile, the House leadership plans to bring up the education spending bill in early September. The GOP-controlled House seems likely to approve lower education spending than the Democratic-led Senate. In fact, last month, House conservatives made clear to GOP leaders that they wanted spending to stay in line with President Bush's request.

Mr. Packer said that if the House Appropriations Committee sticks to that amount, Republicans could struggle to pass the bill in the House. He predicts that most Democrats would vote no, and some moderate Republicans also might not be able to stomach Mr. Bush's levels for education.

Even if a House bill in line with the administration's plan were to pass, however, Democrats would probably have the upper hand in final House-Senate negotiations when it comes to money for schools, said Marshall Wittmann, an expert on Congress in the Washington office of the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute.

"The president and the Republican Party want to maintain their gains in the education area, so it's unlikely they would risk a showdown over spending [on education]," he said. "Democrats are in a very advantageous position on this issue."

Vol. 21, Issue 43, Pages 30, 34

Published in Print: August 7, 2002, as Senate, Bush $3 Billion Apart On Education Spending
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