The budget blueprint President Bush proposed last week calls for an increase of nearly 6 percent for the Department of Education over this year’s appropriation, but it leaves many questions unanswered about how he would allocate those dollars.
Mr. Bush provided specifics on a few select areas within the department, such as $900 million for reading, but left out details for many others. For example, he did not spell out spending levels for the two largest K-12 programs: Title I and special education, nor did he indicate how much he would provide to help states pay for his proposed annual testing requirement for grades 3-8.
Those figures won’t be released until the White House issues a detailed, program-by- program budget proposal in early April.
“It sounds like he’s making a good proposal on reading,” said Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “But we didn’t see overall how a lot of the proposals he’s seeking would be paid for.”
Mr. Bush submitted the budget outline Feb. 28, one day after delivering his first address to the House and the Senate. “Education is my top priority and, by supporting this budget, you’ll make it yours as well,” he told the joint session of Congress.
The president’s $1.96 trillion blueprint for the fiscal 2002 federal budget calls for spending increases in some areas, such as education and defense, with cuts for other agencies. Mr. Bush also wants to take advantage of an expected budget surplus to begin phasing in a tax cut of $1.6 trillion over 10 years while continuing to pay down the national debt.
Republicans appeared generally supportive of the president’s plan.
“It funds many programs that we are currently discussing and debating, and programs that we are putting together, investing in individual families, in children, in youth, in health care, and in education,” Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate education committee, said last week.
But many Democrats, while citing goals they and Mr. Bush share, took aim at his proposed tax cuts and criticized the 6 percent increase for the Education Department as too small.
“We will work with the president to increase literacy, demand accountability, and improve every public school,” House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said in the Democratic response to Mr. Bush’s televised speech. “But with tax cuts consuming almost all of the projected surplus, he cannot possibly keep his commitment to leave no child behind.”
The budget outline came about a month after President Bush, as his first major initiative since taking office Jan. 20, unveiled an ambitious proposal to overhaul the federal role in K-12 education. (“Democrats, GOP Agree in Principle on Federal Role,” Jan. 31, 2001.) Congress is working this year to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, after failing to complete work on it last year.
Mr. Bush’s plan would demand improved student performance from states and school districts, while offering them greater flexibility in spending federal aid. It also contains a controversial proposal— which the president reiterated last week—that would allow federal aid to help pay for private school tuition if a failing Title I school did not improve over three years.
How Big an Increase?
Some confusion has surrounded the question of how large a percentage increase is contained in the president’s $44.5 billion budget blueprint for education. Before issuing the document, the White House indicated—and most major news organizations reported—that the proposed increase from the current fiscal year’s amount would be more than 11 percent, with $4.6 billion in new funding.
But, as many Democrats noted, the baseline comparison number the White House used—$39.9 billon in “budget authority"—did not include more than $2 billion in “advance” appropriations contained in the current budget but not available until Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year. The actual department appropriation for this year was $42.1 billion. (“‘Flexibility’ May Be Sticking Point for K-12 Budget,” Feb. 28, 2001.)
The Bush blueprint repeats the $4.6 billion percent figure, but then proceeds to clarify that the actual increase in department programs would be less. A chart in the blueprint indicates that the increase would be nearly $2.5 billion, or 5.9 percent.
Some $1.6 billion of the increase would go toward the ESEA and related programs, raising the spending level from $18.3 billion this year to $19.9 billion in fiscal 2002.
Among the budget items Mr. Bush singled out are:
•$900 million for reading, up from almost $300 million this year;
•$150 million for facilities costs for charter schools, up from $25 million this year;
•$25 million for character education, up from about $9 million this year; and
•$62 million for school construction under the impact- aid program, up from $13 million this year. Impact aid goes to school districts affected by the presence of nontaxable federal installations, such as military bases.
Mr. Bush also proposed $2.6 billion for a new teacher-quality and- recruitment program, but he did not specify how much extra money that would involve.
On the higher education front, the president wants to spend an additional $1 billion on Pell Grants for needy college students, up from $8.8 billion this year.
At the same time, the administration appears to have changed course on a Bush campaign proposal to increase the maximum grant solely for first-year students. The $1 billion would help raise the maximum award for all recipients, the budget blueprint says.
President Bush’s plan presumes more than $400 million in savings by eliminating all “one time” education projects that have been earmarked for specific recipients by Congress. But Congress is not likely to end that practice, which is often referred to as pork- barrel spending.
Meanwhile, many Education Department spending levels—for such programs as Title I, bilingual and vocational education, safe schools, education technology, and special education—remained a mystery last week. And critics suggest that the amounts already specified may not leave much left to increase funding elsewhere.
“It doesn’t give a lot of room for Title I or many of the other programs,” said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a group that lobbies for more federal education spending.
The document does say more money would be available for special education, a longtime priority for congressional Republicans, but it provides no exact figure.
At the same time, the president proposes to reallocate some of the money for emergency school repairs that this year’s budget contains. He wants to open the money up for a broader set of purposes, including special education, school renovation, and technology costs. A portion of the $1.2 billion for school renovation this year already allows that flexibility, but $900 million is specifically for school repair. Mr. Bush proposes even more flexibility for all those funds next year.
In an education- related area outside the Education Department’s budget, the president does not say how much he will seek for the $6.2 billion Head Start program, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. He has proposed shifting Head Start to the Education Department, and the budget blueprint calls for beginning to plan for such a move.
Potential Sticking Points
President Bush’s budget outline arrived several days after a group of centrist Democrats spelled out changes they would need to see in Mr. Bush’s ESEA proposal to reach a bipartisan compromise. Their own ESEA reauthorization bill has a great deal in common with the president’s approach.
But some sticking points remain, and one is spending. The centrist bloc, known as the New Democrats, calls for increasing federal education aid by $35 billion over five years, or about $7 billion per year. The New Democrats would raise Title I funding by $22.5 billion over five years.
“We believe that if we are to demand high standards of accountability for public schools, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, then we must provide them with additional resources to help them meet these new benchmarks,” a group of 20 New Democrats wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to the president.
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Bush Unveils Outline For Ed. Spending