Education Funding

Bush’s Growing Education Budget Has Winners, Losers

By Erik W. Robelen — April 18, 2001 7 min read
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When President Bush unveiled his budget last week, he proposed a $2.5 billion increase for the Department of Education. But not all programs would benefit from that growth. Beneath the 6 percent increase lies a set of priorities, a mixture of burnished and banished programs, that reflects the new president’s education agenda.

He would triple money for reading programs, nearly double spending on charter schools, and kick up the special education budget by $1 billion. But the $10 million National Writing Project, along with a host of programs to support bilingual education, repair schools, and promote civic education, among other things, would not fare so well. Some would see their funding frozen, while others would be cut, consolidated, or eliminated altogether.

Mary Ann Smith, a co-director of the National Writing Project, based at the University of California, Berkeley, laments Mr. Bush’s plans to consolidate the writing program into a more flexible block grant to states. The program helps pay for efforts to improve the teaching of writing in schools.

“This is a very small amount of money,” Ms. Smith said. “It would be a shame to lose this program.”

Of course, the fate of the National Writing Project and other programs is not sealed. Observers say the final budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 is likely to look quite different from what the president has proposed.

And beyond the details inside, and despite the overall increase, Mr. Bush’s education budget has encountered sharp criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill. They have made clear that they will agree to much of the president’s education agenda only if the budget is substantially larger than the $44.5 billion he has put forward for discretionary Education Department spending in fiscal 2002.

Mr. Bush on April 9 revealed details of his proposed $2 trillion budget. Secretary of Education Rod Paige emphasized the proposed growth in his department’s budget at a press conference that afternoon, saying the department received the largest percentage increase of any federal agency. But he cautioned that improving schools is not just a matter of more money.

“Despite more than a decade of rapidly increasing federal spending on elementary and secondary education, student performance has not improved,” Mr. Paige said. “We need to do things differently, to adopt a culture of achievement in our schools and school systems, and to demand results for our growing investment in education.”

Some Democrats, however, said Mr. Bush isn’t spending enough to reach that result.

“President Bush’s message on education has gone from a shout to a murmur,” Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement last week. “He will not be able to turn around failing schools with his anemic education budget.”

Mr. Miller and others have contrasted the president’s proposed budget with the current one, for fiscal 2001, which reflects a record increase of $6.5 billion, or 18 percent, from a year earlier.

But Jeff Simering, the legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools, argues that while he, too, would like to see a larger increase, some historical context is important.

“I’m trying to keep this in perspective,” he said. “You can’t just look at the exceptions to the rule, which last year certainly was. Not that I would mind having a few more exceptions. ... Everybody was trying to out-education the other side. People just don’t seem to do as well in nonelection years.”

Indeed, in fiscal 2000, the department’s budget increased by $2.1 billion. And President Clinton that year actually requested less—$1.2 billion, or about half President Bush’s request.

The new budget proposal comes as Congress is working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal law in K-12 education, after failing to pass it last year. The president has outlined a broad plan to overhaul that law that would provide more flexibility for states and districts in spending federal aid, while stepping up federal demands to show improved student performance.

Senate aides said earlier this month that key senators had reached a tentative agreement with the White House on many tenets of Mr. Bush’s plan, though spending was still considered the largest sticking point. (Senate Deal Would Allow Vouchers for Tutors, April 11, 2001.)

The Details

Under President Bush’s budget, spending on the Title I program for disadvantaged students would rise by about 5 percent, to $9.06 billion. Of that amount, $400 million would be set aside for states to use to intervene in low-performing schools, up from $225 million this year. Mr. Bush also proposed $320 million to help states develop annual tests for students in grades 3-8.

Charter schools would benefit under at least two specific programs. The proposed Charter Schools Homestead Act would provide $175 million to help communities build, buy, or lease facilities for charters. In addition, an existing charter schools program that supports planning, development, and other start-up costs would grow by $10 million, to $200 million.

But despite hikes in selected areas, many other programs would be put on a fiscal diet.

Some would see their funding frozen at the current year’s level, such as the $644 million Safe and Drug-Free Schools program and the $846 million 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports after-school activities. And allowing for increased enrollment nationwide and inflation—the administration estimates 2.6 percent inflation next year—those levels would actually provide reduced services.

President Bush’s budget assumes agreement on his plans to consolidate many education programs into a smaller set of more flexible spending areas. Some consolidation is widely viewed as a likely outcome of this year’s ESEA reauthorization.

For example, Mr. Bush would consolidate nine educational technology programs into a technology block grant to states. He also would create a new Choice and Innovation grant program, which would consolidate 10 other programs, including the National Writing Project, arts education, and women’s educational equity.

While those programs would remain as allowable uses, the money could also be spent on school choice—including private school vouchers. And the total funding would be cut in half.

Nancy M. Zirkin, the director of government relations for the American Association of University Women, said she was hopeful the gender-equity program would survive intact. She noted that the program has support not only from Democrats, but also from some Republicans, such as Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

And she pointed out that the budget process is still at an early stage. “Whatever [ultimately] comes out is going to look very different” she said.

A New Dynamic?

That new look almost certainly will include more green.

Mr. Bush’s budget arrived three days after the Senate completed work on its budget resolution and left town for a two-week recess. Democrats, joined by several Republican colleagues, succeeded in shifting a portion of the president’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut to increase education spending over 10 years.

Overall, the budget resolution approved by the Senate would hike education spending over 10 years by about $320 billion, up from the roughly $43 billion that the administration says it would add over that period.

“In a lot of ways, the Bush budget is the absolute floor of what I think we’ll end up with,” said Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association.

The House last month approved a budget resolution that more closely mirrored the president’s approach. Representatives from both chambers are expected to convene to hammer out the differences shortly after Congress returns late this month. And at that time, Republican leaders are expected to seek to restore at least some of Mr. Bush’s proposed tax cuts.

Democrats aren’t the only ones with reservations about President Bush’s budget.

“I remain concerned at both the overall level of education spending and specifically the amount requested for special education,” said Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Other Republicans offered a warmer welcome.

“This is a very strong commitment by the president,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., who chairs the House education committee’s Subcommittee on Education Reform. “I’m not suggesting that I wouldn’t advocate some changes in the numbers myself.”

While Democrats regard the budget as too small an influential conservative group finds it troubling for just the opposite reason.

Michael D. Bowman, the director of government relations for the Family Research Council, noted that Congress has not approved the president’s proposal to overhaul the federal role in education.

“Before they even get the plan [approved], we’re committing to put more money into something that hasn’t worked,” he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2001 edition of Education Week as Bush’s Growing Education Budget Has Winners, Losers


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