Congressional Republicans sent some mixed signals on federal education spending last week, as Senate appropriators slightly exceeded President Clinton’s huge budget request while their House counterparts fell significantly short.
Mr. Clinton is seeking to raise Department of Education discretionary spending for fiscal 2001 by an unprecedented $4.5 billion, for a total of $40.1 billion. The allocation unanimously approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee May 11 would provide the department with $40.2 billion. By contrast, a House Appropriations subcommittee one day earlier passed a bill that would offer $37.2 billion—nearly $3 billion less than the president’s plan.
“You will find the [House spending bill] to be very, very lean by comparison [with the Senate’s],” said Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee. "[It] reflects the best I could do.”
Rep. Porter, a reluctant messenger for the GOP proposal, said he lamented that the House Republican leadership had chosen not to work in a bipartisan fashion on the budget. Earlier this spring, he joined Democrats in voting against the nonbinding budget blueprint that set overall spending limits for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Mr. Porter’s subcommittee approved the appropriations bill on a party-line vote. The full House committee is tentatively scheduled to consider the bill May 24.
President Clinton issued a statement the following day promising to veto both the House and Senate appropriations bills, which would fund the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services as well as Education, if they are sent to him in their current form.
If history is any indication, the House spending total is unlikely to prevail in the end. Over the past several years, the chamber has approved lower spending levels for education and other priorities, but ultimately through negotiations with the Senate and the White House, the final allocations are substantially higher.
Last year, in fact, the Education Department received more money under a 11th-hour compromise on the fiscal 2000 budget than either Congress or the president had originally sought.
Special education funding, a top GOP priority, is one of the main beneficiaries under both the House and Senate plans.
The Senate bill would increase state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal law on special education, by $1.3 billion, for a total of $7.1 billion. The House bill would provide a $500 million increase, to $6.3 billion. President Clinton, meanwhile, is asking for $6 billion.
As they tried unsuccessfully last year, some Republicans are hoping to abolish Mr. Clinton’s prized class-size-reduction program through the budget process.
The House bill would replace the program with House-passed legislation that provides a more flexible pot of money for teacher quality, in contrast to the president’s emphasis on hiring more teachers. The Senate plan would set aside some money for both class-size reduction and school construction, another of President Clinton’s priorities, but the provisions are crafted in such a way that the money could be spent on other initiatives.
The House bill would freeze spending for some programs, such as Title I education aid for disadvantaged students, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, and education research. The Senate bill would also freeze research spending and nearly freeze safe-schools money. However, it would provide a modest Title I increase of $400 million, for a total of $8.34 billion
The Senate proposal would abolish the $220 million comprehensive-school-reform program that was originally sponsored by Reps. Porter and David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Also, raising the ire of many education groups, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., amended the bill in full committee to allow community-based organizations to apply directly for federal after-school program grants. Currently, only schools can apply for direct grants, though they can collaborate with CBOs.
A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as House, Senate Appropriators Differ on School Spending