Education budget prompts questions
School districts around the country have a right to be disappointed with both the Democrats and Republicans in Washington despite the fact that the Department of Education’s fiscal 1997 budget is higher than ever before.
That is because neither the Clinton administration nor Congressional Democrats or Republicans have made much of an effort to assure that those funds are being as well spent as they could be.
President Clinton had asked for $25.6 billion for programs such as the Title 1 compensatory program for low-income school districts, special education funding, Charter Schools, Goals 2000, technology grants and a great deal more. But the House approved $22.8 billion and the Senate $23.3 billion.
By late September, Clinton was calling the GOP “anti-education” and threatening to close down the government unless Republicans gave him what he wanted.
The GOP caved in, afraid the public would blame Republicans once again for a government shutdown. They finally agreed to $26.3 billion, $743 million more than Clinton had asked for.
Still, there was little serious discussion about whether the Education Department’s funds were being well spent.
Now, it has become eminently clear that too much of that money is being wasted. The Title 1 compensatory education program is the big ticket program with a budget that increased $464 million to$7.2 billion. That money goes to school districts with a certain percentage of low-income families. Unfortunately, many studies have shown that children in local Title 1 programs do not perform any better than students with similar social backgrounds who are not in Title 1 programs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) appropriation went from $2.3 billion in fiscal 1996 to $3.1 billion, a huge increase for a program that nearly everyone agrees needs an overhaul. Indeed, the program, which supplies special education funds for schools to be used for programs, technology and services for the disabled, was the subject of a House-passed reform bill backed by local school and disability groups. That reform bill would have, among other things, made it easier to discipline disabled children who resort to violence, required states to provide mediation services for parents who wanted to sue school districts over mistreatment of their disabled children and required schools to explain why individual students were being put in expensive special education classes instead of being mainstreamed.
The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee passed a similar bill.
But Sen. Tom Harkin (D – Iowa) threatened to offer amendments on the Senate floor on behalf of disability groups, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R – Miss.) was adamant that the bill would not be brought up unless no amendments were attached.
In late September, a feverish effort by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and other groups to convince Harkin to compromise on the IDEA reform bill fell flat, and the bill died.
The Republicans, last-minute agreement to an extra $3.5 billion meant that President Clinton’s new Technology Literacy Fund would receive $200 billion on top of the $57 million in the Technology Challenge grant program, which provides money to school districts (based on matching state funds) for computer literacy items.
Still, that is only $4 million a state”peanuts,” according to Laurie Wesley, assistant executive director for the National School Boards Association.
Reconciling that with the Title 1 program money is a challenge the new Congress should probably take up.