Budget Plan Brings Education Funding Boost

By Joetta L. Sack — October 28, 1998 3 min read
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Congress and President Clinton finally approved a $35.6 billion spending plan for education last week as part of an omnibus package laden with funding increases and pet projects.

The measure allots $33.11 billion for discretionary programs--a hefty 12.6 percent increase over last year’s $29.4 billion--and includes spending on new initiatives on hiring teachers, teaching reading, and promoting school safety.

Many favored projects--including special education state grants, charter schools, and new programs to train teachers--also were granted significant funding gains this year.

The spending plan, which was included in a $485 billion omnibus budget bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, passed the House by a 333-95 vote on Oct. 20. The Senate passed the bill, 65-29, on Oct. 21, and President Clinton signed it into law the same day.

Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary of education, called the budget package “an enormous victory” for the White House.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we made very good progress,” he said at an Oct. 16 news conference shortly after congressional and White House negotiators reached agreement on the plan.

Most notably, the White House did not get money to help districts pay for interest on school construction and modernization bonds. Administration negotiators had pressed for $3.3 billion in funding over five years to coincide with a new $1.2 billion allotment to hire new teachers and reduce class sizes.

The White House said too many districts would not have the space for new teachers even though the teachers were badly needed. But Republicans were wary, saying that the Clinton plan would create a federal bureaucracy that would drive up construction costs for districts.

The Republicans failed, meanwhile, to include language in the bill to allow school administrators greater leeway in disciplining disabled students. Instead, the gop lawmakers asked the General Accounting Office to prepare a report, to be released next spring, detailing how discipline provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are affecting schools.

To help pay for the fiscal 1999 increases, the bill stipulates that $6.15 billion of Title I’s $7.68 billion grant program will not be distributed until after Oct. 1, 1999. The move should have no impact on Title I schools because the balance will be available to fund the programs from July 1.

Raft of Spending Hikes

The final appropriations package riled some conservative members of Congress who had wanted to rein in domestic spending and give more money directly to local districts.

“It is time that this administration stopped promising educational reforms without actually reforming anything,” said retiring Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., who delivered the Republican Party’s weekly radio address on Oct. 17. “They perpetuate the failing system by throwing ever more money at failing programs.”

With the Nov. 3 midterm elections drawing near, lawmakers worked quickly to cut deals and craft a budget Mr. Clinton would agree to sign--and give themselves projects to boast about in their campaigns.

Many education groups were pleased with the end result, particularly since they had braced for cuts earlier in the year.

“A number of the initiatives very important to us received funding,” said Shirley Igo, the vice president for legislation for the National PTA. “We could not have predicted these marvelous funding increases.”

Highlights include:

  • A new, $75 million appropriation for teacher training in technology, plus another $75 million to recruit and train teachers for high-poverty areas;
  • A new allotment, $120 million, for academic and support services for at-risk middle school students;
  • A 25 percent increase in charter school funding, from $80 million in fiscal 1998 to $100 million; and
  • An additional 12.5 percent for bilingual education, from $199 million last year to $224 million, with $50 million targeted to professional development.

At a fund-raiser for a Washington charter school late last week, retiring Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., who chairs the House subcommittee on K-12 issues, joked that anyone who liked sausage, or democracy, would not want to watch either being made.

“We made a monumental piece of sausage with this omnibus bill,” he said.

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