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SECRETARY SPELLINGS DEFENDS BUSH BUDGET ON CAPITOL HILL: Congress Expresses Concern over Education Cuts, Proposal to Extend NCLB to High Schools

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"In his February 2nd State of the Union Address, the president underscored the need to restrain spending in order to sustain our economic growth and prosperity," Spellings testified

In a March 2 appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, and a March 10 appearance before a House appropriations subcommittee, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings urged support for President Bush’s plan to extend the accountability and high expectations of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into high schools, while defending the president’s budget for its fiscal discipline and targeted resources. For fiscal year 2006, President Bush proposed a cut of $600 million, or 0.9 percent less than was appropriated last year, for the U.S. Department of Education-the first overall cut to the education budget in a decade.

“In his February 2nd State of the Union Address, the president underscored the need to restrain spending in order to sustain our economic growth and prosperity,” Spellings testified. She noted that of the 150 program reductions in the 2006 budget, one-third are under the Department of Education. “We are committed to working with Congress to achieve these savings,” she said. “Given fiscal realities, we must target our resources toward flexibility and results.”

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education, took issue with the president’s proposal to cut education spending by almost 1 percent. “Education is a capital asset, a capital expenditure, and there is no more important investment our government makes,” he said. “When we return to our constituents, we will have some tough questions to face.” Specter also requested details on the forty-eight education programs that were proposed for elimination in the president’s budget. He explained that Congress had funded them because they had strong support and met expressed needs in states and localities.

In noting that only sixty-eight out of every one hundred entering ninth graders will receive their high school diploma on time, Spellings praised the president’s $1.24 billion High School Initiative, saying it would help give students the academic skills to succeed in the twenty-first century. “Call it what you will-a challenge, a problem, or a crisis. But it is imperative that we give our high schools the tools to succeed in an economy in which 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require some postsecondary education.”

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the ranking Democrat on the committee, noted that the president’s budget eliminated $2.2 billion in funds for high school programs and only proposed $1.5 billion to replace it. He also noted that parents and teachers feel that NCLB is too harsh and results in too narrow a curriculum. He suggested that now is not the right time to extend NCLB to high schools. While Harkin praised the administration for its increases in the special education budget, he noted that the federal government still fell far short of its promise to provide 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure to each disabled child in the system.

Among specific programs slated for elimination, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education program and the TRIO programs received wide support from senators. To demonstrate the need for Perkins funds in his state, Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) explained that students in Wisconsin technical schools, whose average age is twenty-nine, would not be served by the High School Initiative, and that current Perkins funding is being used well.

Spellings countered by saying that Perkins recipients would be covered under a new $250 million community college program in the Labor Department. Kohl, however, remained unconvinced. “Perkins is $1.3 billion. You’re talking about $200 or $300 million. I don’t think that’s a tradeoff. I think there’s clearly a net minus of money here of significant proportions,” he said.

In discussing the programs slated for elimination, Secretary Spellings explained that most of the programs were small in nature and could continue to receive funding if local districts so choose. “We believe we should be clear about what we expect and allow states to be flexible with their resources,” she said. In response, Senator Harkin expressed doubt that local districts would continue to fund programs such as TRIO, which often have only a few students in each school. “I really don’t think it’s fair to say local districts will pick this up; they won’t,” he said.

In the hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH) told Secretary Spellings that he had four goals for the subcommittee: 1) To make sure every child had a highly qualified teacher and a highly qualified principal; 2) To make sure every child learns to read well; 3) To reduce the drop out rate (32 out of 100 being too high); and 4) To increase the emphasis on math and science education.

During the hearing, members of the subcommittee expressed skepticism that the president’s High School Initiative could make up for cuts to vocational education, student loans, and other smaller, but targeted programs. Ranking Member David Obey (D-WI) charged that the administration’s budget was indifferent to the needs of those in the nation who need help the most in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy. He said the budget was outrageously irresponsible and that he strongly disagreed with the policies it represents.

Chairman Regula ended the hearing by telling Secretary Spellings that he hopes to schedule a second meeting for her before the subcommittee, given the strong interest in education.

Secretary Spellings’s testimony is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/03/03022005.html.

 

House and Senate Education Committees Approve Reauthorization of Vocational Education Law

 

On opposite sides of Capitol Hill last Wednesday, the House and Senate Education Committees each approved its own version of legislation to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (Perkins). Both versions seek to increase accountability while focusing on academic instruction and improving alignment and coordination between high school and college requirements.

In his fiscal year 2006 budget, President Bush sought to eliminate funding for the $1.3 billion program and use it for his High School Initiative. Judging by its action last week and member comments during the markups, Congress does not appear willing to go along with the president’s plan to eliminate the program.

“Vocational and technical education is a fundamental part of our efforts to improve education at all levels so America can continue to be competitive as our education and workplace systems evolve,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH).

Boehner’s counterpart in the Senate agreed: “The American economy is in the midst of a skills revolution, making a quality education more important than ever,” said Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Some estimates suggest that 60 percent of the jobs created in the next decade will require skills that only 20 percent of workers today possess. The Perkins Act is a critical piece of a comprehensive effort to train American workers to fill the good jobs being created.”

 

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