Democrats Charge President Must Boost Education Spending

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

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{\colortbl ;\red0\green0\blue0;\red255\green255\blue255; (CNSNews.com) - House Democrats on Monday attacked the president's budget for short-changing education programs and accused GOP leaders of stalling for votes.
\cbpat2\sb100\sa100 President Bush is requesting $50.3 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Education in fiscal year 2003, which is a $1.4 billion (or 2.8 percent) increase over the 2002 enacted level.
That was the spending level agreed to by the Republican-controlled House in a non-binding budget resolution passed earlier this year.
Republicans characterize it as generous in a year defined by war and recession. But Democrats, in a new appropriations committee minority report, say t he "real" Bush education initiative is to stop the growth of federal funding.
Education "is an issue of highest priority to the American people," said Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), addressing reporters on Capitol Hill. Yet the president's education bill falls $7.2 billion short of full funding for federal education programs and freezes six years of steady spending increases, she charged.
\cbpat2\sb100\sa100 Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations committee, accused the Bush administration of being all photo op and no resources on education reform.
The White House needs to "back up rhetoric" with more spending on special education, special programs for homeless children, after school care, teacher training programs, English language training and poverty programs, Obey suggested.
For school districts that are struggling to improve student performance, there is "no other way to improve those community schools without federal help," he said.
\sb100\sa100 But House Republicans fired back, accusing the Democrats of lobbing criticisms without a plan of their own that specifies how to pay for their funding wish list.
"When it comes to funding education reform, Democrat leaders have no plan, no budget, and no credibility," said House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio).
"In the House, Democrats voted against the president's budget this year but didn't offer an alternative plan of their own," said Boehner. "And in the Democrat-controlled Senate, they didn't even pass a budget resolution this year - the first time since 1974 that the Senate has failed to do so."
"If you're going to talk about going further than the president has proposed ... in terms of education funding or any other priority," added David Schnittger, a GOP spokesman for the education committee, "you better be prepared to tell the American people which tax you're going to raise or which program you're going to cut to get to that goal."
The Congressional Budget Office projects a $157 billion deficit in FY 2002 (which ends Sept. 30) and a possible $145 billion deficit in FY 2003 if current tax and spending policies remain unchanged.
Obey blamed the present House/Senate impasse on the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, of which education is a part, on disagreement among Republican conservatives and moderates over spending levels.
According to Obey, conservatives are stalling the appropriations bill because they don't think they have enough votes to pass it in its current form, while moderates don't want the bill brought to the House floor without additional spending.
Schnittger acknowledged that moderates are in a tough spot because House and Senate Democrats are pressuring moderates to spend money "beyond the means that we have to pay for it."
"Some of the moderates would like to increase education funding beyond what was called for in the budget resolution, but they recognize that funding has to be paid for," he said.
Krista Kafer, senior education analyst for the Heritage Foundation, said big spending increases don't automatically mean higher test scores anyway.
\cbpat2\sb100\sa100"Academic achievement has more or less flat lined, yet we continue to devote billions and billions of dollars in federal spending," said Kafer.
Over the past six years, discretionary education appropriations rose from $23 billion in fiscal year 1996 to $48.9 billion in fiscal year 2002, an increase of 113 percent.
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