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Critics Cite Relative Lack of Spending for Education

April 6, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush’s $441 million package of education programs is as appealing as ″motherhood,″ says one Democratic supporter, but critics say it spends too little to counter the problems in American schools.

The most optimistic outlook on the Bush proposal came from its chief Senate sponsor, Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas.

″It’s a package one could hardly be against,″ she said Tuesday after a Rose Garden ceremony at which Bush announced he was sending it to Congress. Chances of passage are ″very good,″ said Kassebaum, the senior Republican on the Senate education subcommittee.

But there were some who found reason to grumble, among them Rep. Augustus Hawkins, D-Calif., and the 1.9-million-member National Education Association.

Hawkins, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, called Bush’s plan ″a futile response to the growing crisis in American education.″ He said it had ″no future on Capitol Hill.″

The Educational Excellence Act outlined by the president makes good on many of his campaign promises, among them a $250 million grant program to reward schools that have cut drug use or dropout rates, raised test scores or improved in other ways.

Another major part of the package, proposed for fiscal 1990, calls for spending $100 million on a new magnet schools program. Schools would be encouraged to develop special curricula to attract students, with the objective of increasing open enrollment and parental choice.

Other parts of the bill would reward outstanding teachers and science scholars, develop new ways to certify teachers, help drug-ridden urban schools and bolster the endowments of historically black colleges.

Critics zeroed in on its fiscal modesty.

″The fact that they can talk easily about raising $40 billion to bail out savings and loans and we’re nickel-and-diming on the issue of children’s education, talking about $400 million, is ludicrous,″ said Ken Melley, chief lobbyist for the NEA.

″The fact is, if the education budget were to just enjoy the cost of living increase that they give the defense budget, we would have had another $900 million,″ he said.

Some juggling in the budget proposal submitted by former President Reagan and later embraced by Bush would allow modest increases in several major programs such as Chapter 1, which bolsters basic skills of disadvantaged students.

But critics say even those increases don’t match inflation, meaning schools would have to cut back on services.

Bush is ″attempting to strip programs long supported by Congress to pay for new initiatives of questionable value,″ Hawkins charged. ″The Congress will not accept that lack of commitment to education investment.″

Not all Democrats were negative about the Bush plan.

″This is an excellent initiative,″ said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate education subcommittee, who attended the Rose Garden announcement. He compared the package to ″motherhood″ and said its chances of passage are ″pretty good.″

Education officials said Wednesday they would enter budget negotiations with Congress seeking $22.3 billion in fiscal 1990 spending authority for their department - the initial $21.9 billion sought by Reagan plus $441 million for the Bush proposals.

In addition to the $250 million for merit schools and $100 million for magnets, Bush is proposing:

-$25 million for grants to urban schools that have the most serious drug problems.

-$25 million for federal grants to develop ways to get professionals from other fields into teaching and administrative positions.

-$10 million in matching grants to historically black colleges and universities to help them enrich their endowments.

-$7.6 million for grants to outstanding teachers.

-$5 million for scholarships to graduating high school students who have excelled in mathematics or science.

-$18 million for three initiatives that do not require legislative action, comprising $13 million to expand and evaluate local education innovations, $2 million for the education of homeless children and youth and $3 million for a literacy program for homeless adults.

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