Education Funding

Constituencies Mobilize Over Bush Budget

April 05, 2005 6 min read
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The author Garrison Keillor has joked about a fictitious National Federation of Associations, but in Washington there really is a membership group to champion just about every interest, from ice cream retailers to mortgage bankers.

And when it comes to President Bush’s proposal to scale back or abolish dozens of federal education programs, plenty of groups are rallying their members to resist his plans.

The National Association of School Psychologists is fighting proposed cuts to programs that finance school-based mental-health services, such as the $35 million Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program. The Council for Opportunity in Education is working to protect programs that help disadvantaged students graduate from high school and get into college. And the National Even Start Association, actually based not in the Washington area but in San Diego, once again is defending the $226 million Even Start program, which aims to improve educational opportunities for children and their families in low-income areas through family-literacy efforts.

The Even Start group helped organize a March event where members of Congress and their staffs were briefed on the program. Karina Muniz, a 26-year-old mother of two from Newport, R.I., was among those invited to give Even Start a human face, and to tell a success story.

“It’s changed my life,” Ms. Muniz said of the program in her community. “I feel better about myself. I feel great as a person, and I feel that I’ve succeeded for myself, for my children. … I’m a good role model for my children.”

Ms. Muniz said she dropped out of high school about a decade ago, and when she entered the Even Start program her academic skills were far behind. She credits the program with helping her earn a General Educational Development credential, and said she has applied to attend a community college in the fall.

“We were there to show how we feel about the program,” Ms. Muniz said of her visit to Washington. “We’re trying to do our best for our children, and [President Bush] is not giving us the opportunity.”

‘Difficult Choices’

As part of his budget request for fiscal 2006, Mr. Bush is seeking to eliminate 48 programs in the Department of Education and to scale back the budgets for some others. His overall request, which also would fund several new programs, would lower the agency’s discretionary budget by $530 million, or nearly 1 percent, to $56 billion. The Education Department is one of many federal agencies slated for cuts under his $2.5 trillion funding request for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

“Spending discipline requires difficult choices,” the president said in a speech in February shortly after announcing his budget request. “Every government program was created with good intentions—but not all are matching good intentions with good results. … My 2006 budget eliminates, or substantially reduces, more than 150 federal programs that are not succeeding, that are duplicating existing efforts, or that are not fulfilling an essential priority.”

President Bush singled out the Even Start program in the speech as failing to demonstrate results.

“Even Start is not working, and so I’ve asked that the program be eliminated and focus resources on things that do work,” he said. The Bush administration cites three national studies that it says concluded that the academic gains of participants were not significantly greater than those of nonparticipants.

“Those studies were seriously flawed,” said Scott Himelstein, the chairman of the National Even Start Association. Mr. Himelstein noted that he is scheduled to testify before a House Appropriations panel on April 22 along with former Rep. Bill Goodling, a Pennsylvania Republican who was chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee from 1994-2000 and has been a longtime champion of the Even Start program. In fact, the program now formally bears his name.

“The case that we make is that Even Start is working, and working well all across the nation,” Mr. Himelstein said. “And we back that up through data.”

Mr. Bush’s call to end the $496 million educational technology state grants program also has attracted a lot of attention and resistance.

On March 21, for instance, nearly 150 education technology advocates from 37 states came to Capitol Hill to talk up the program’s merits. The joint “advocacy day” was sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education.

“It’s coming for us at the worst possible time,” L. Michael Golden, Pennsylvania’s deputy education secretary for information and educational technology, said of the president’s proposed cuts. “We’re now seeing results that validate the need for continued and increased funding.”

The Council for Opportunity in Education helped bring nearly 1,000 people to Capitol Hill during its annual legislative conference to protest proposed cuts to several programs, including the $313 million Upward Bound and $145 million Talent Search programs. Both help disadvantaged youths graduate from high school and complete postsecondary education.

“No president has ever tried to eliminate our programs,” said Susan Trebach, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group, a nonprofit that seeks to promote greater access to postsecondary education. “These programs, Upward Bound and Talent Search, have been around for 40 years,” and have enjoyed bipartisan support, she said.

History Against Cuts

If history is any judge, Congress is likely to abolish few, if any, of the programs in the president’s cross hairs. Mr. Bush has sought repeatedly to eliminate many of the same programs.

Recent hearings, and budget action in the Senate, suggest that this year may be no exception.

The Senate on March 17 narrowly approved an amendment to a recent budget blueprint that would add $5.6 billion for various education programs. (“Budget Plan in Senate Would Restore Bush’s College, Voc. Ed. Cuts,” March 30, 2005.)

Two weeks earlier, several Republican and Democratic senators expressed their reservations about the president’s plans.

“[T]his subcommitee is going to need to have the specifics on why you have eliminated 48 programs,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings at a March 2 hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. “Those programs have come into existence as a result of study by the Congress. … And those programs have been suggested by a variety of people.” (“Budget Panel Receives Spellings With Skepticism,” March 9, 2005.)

Secretary Spellings said “the president believes [the 48 programs] do not represent, necessarily, either a critical mass or have, in all cases, been an effective use of resources.”

Mr. Himelstein from the Even Start group said he’s a little more nervous this year about the fate of his program.

“I consider this the toughest fight for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One, the administration has made it very plain just by their tone to the Congress how serious they are about cutting funding overall.” That said, Mr. Himelstein said his group is well-positioned for the fight.

“This is the fourth year in a row that the administration has either tried to cut or totally eliminate Even Start,” he said. “Because we have had to do battle, we have really come up with some bipartisan support. … My outlook is cautiously optimistic.”

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