Bush’s Budget Proposal Draws Criticism
Education, children’s advocates express disappointment with funding increases, other provisions
As general recommendations give way to more specifics, President Bush’s new budget proposal is beginning to draw criticism from education and children’s advocates.
Following release of the president’s full-scale budget last month, the plan is increasingly under fire from groups such as the Children’s Defense Fund. Bush had borrowed CDF’s slogan, “Leave No Child Behind,” for his own education reform program earlier this year.
Originally supportive of Bush’s general aims, CDF leaders strongly criticized the budget plan. “We must not let the words ‘Leave No Child Behind’ become a fig leaf for unjust political and policy changes that, in fact, will leave millions of children and the poor behind,” says Marian Wright Edelman, CDF’s president.
Among other provisions, the budget “abandons” a plan to increase Head Start enrollment to 1 million children next year, Edelman says. Bush’s budget calls for a 2 percent Head Start increase a year after the program received gains of about 20 percent — partly to meet the 1 million enrollment target.
Edelman also had strong criticism for Bush’s $1.6 billion tax cut, claiming that nearly half of the benefits would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans. By comparison, 53 percent of African American and Hispanic families “would be left behind completely,” she added.
“The litmus test of caring for children is what is done, not just what is said,” says Edelman.
Higher education groups also expressed disappointment with the president’s budget, which includes only a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant. Leaders of these organizations are asking Congress for a $600 increase, for a maximum grant of $4,350 next year.
The budget also is a mixed bag for college access programs, with TRIO activities scheduled for a $50 million increase while Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP ) would be cut by $68 million.
“President Bush’s message on education has gone from a shout to a murmur. He will not be able to turn around failing schools with his anemic education budget,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Undergraduate education programs at the National Science Foundation also would take a hit of about 6 percent. Overall, education programs under NSF would get less money next year.
“Such a cut would severely compromise the effectiveness of these programs at a time when demand for them is at its peak,” says George R. Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Beginning in January, the new president unveiled some details of his education plans but stopped short of releasing a full-scale budget proposal. The thick budget documents released in early April provide a better snapshot of administration priorities.
At the K-12 level, Title I grants to local schools and state special education grants would receive increases, but many postsecondary programs — including college work/study, supplemental education grants and Perkins Loans for college — all would have their funding frozen next year.
The budget also would consolidate a variety of smaller education programs into several block grants, with net budget savings. Supporters of the plan call it smarter federal investments in education. “Simply spending more money in the same way is not the answer,” says Education Secretary Roderick Paige, a former dean of education at Texas Southern University. “We need to do things differently.”
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