Strong Rhetoric Belies Modest Changes

The Budget of the `Education President'

After hearing President Bush's repeated assertions during the campaign that he would be the "education president," many educators said they hoped that the newly elected president's first budget would include a sigificant increase in federal funding for education.

But after examining Bush's first budget last week, legislators discovered that it contained only modest increases in spending over what former President Ronald W. Reagan proposed in his 1990 budget.

"Bush had his first opportunity to put his stamp on the new budget," said David Evans, staff director for the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities. "That would have been a real psychological boost for the president's new educational plans."

Although the Bush budget allocates $441 million in new spending, mostly for pre-college programs, legislators say they are disappointed that the plan does not call for an increase for major financial aid programs. (See box)

"Overall, the President's education proposals involve a series of modest program initiatives that, taken together, enhance the small but critical role the federal government plays in education," said Sen. Clairborne Pell (D-R.I.), chair of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources.


"I had hoped that the Bush education budget might target additional funding for such vitally important programs as student assistance," Pell added.

Funding for Pell Grants, which provide direct federal assistance to college students, would increase 6 percent under Bush's plan, while funding for the College Work-Study program would remain the same. But spending for Guaranteed Student Loans would be cut by 7 percent.

Bush also proposed a major reduction in funding for Perkins Loans, which are administered by and paid back to the individual colleges. In 1987, the Reagan Administration began phasing out Perkins Loans in favor of Income Contingent Loans (ICL), which provide financing at market interest rates. ICL spending would be quadrupled under the Bush plan.

Approximately 650 Harvard students now receive Perkins Loans, but it is impossible to tell whether the new budget will have any impact on them because aid awards are affected by many other factors, according to James S. Miller, director of financial aids.

"Cuts [in Perkins Loans] are not the issue, but it is how the remaining funds are redistributed," Miller said.

While Bush has been criticized for not increasing aid to existing higher education programs, most educators have praised his initiatives for new college and pre-college programs.

"There is a lack of funding to go with the rhetoric, but this does not mean that [Bush] is not serious about doing new things in education," said Vice President for Government and Public Affairs John Shattuck.

Bush proposed two programs aimed at higher education. One is a program for traditionally Black institutions of higher learning, which would provide $60 million over the next four years for matching grants for the schools' endowments. schools' endowments.

"The program is designed to help historically Black colleges and universities to build endowments in order to put them on firmer financial footing," said Lonn Anderson, spokesperson for Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos.

Many Black colleges are in financial trouble and need help from the federal government, said Althea T. L. Simmons, chief lobbyist and director of the Washington branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Simmons said the NAACP would lobby for more funding because the budget proposal did not allocate sufficient money for the program.

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