- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

TOWNSEND, Tenn. President Bush announced yesterday he will ask Congress to increase spending on education by more than 11 percent next year the largest proposed increase for any Cabinet department the president will include in the budget plan he submits next week.
His proposal to boost spending by $4.6 billion will include an additional $1.6 billion for elementary and secondary education, an 8 percent increase over this year.
"I'm confident the combination of an increase in spending, coupled with education reform that holds people accountable, is the right path for America to take," Mr. Bush told a small gathering of teachers and students in the gymnasium of Townsend Elementary School, about 30 miles south of Knoxville in the Smoky Mountains.
"I think it's so important for us to prioritize public education. At the same time, we make it a priority of making sure our money is spent well. A priority has got to be diligence when it comes to taxpayers' money," he said.
Under his plan, discretionary spending on education will increase from $39.9 billion to $44.5 billion an 11.5 percent increase in the 2002 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Neither Mr. Bush nor administration officials would say exactly how the money would be spent. But one Bush aide said some would be used to fund a $600 million increase for reading programs announced by Mr. Bush on Tuesday and some would go for such programs as teacher training, aid to disadvantaged students, school safety and English fluency.
During the campaign, Mr. Bush promised to increase federal education spending by $47.5 billion over 10 years.
The president has taken to the road this week to explain the priorities he will lay out in the budget proposal he will submit to Congress on Wednesday, the day after he addresses a joint session. Throughout his trip, the president has trumpeted local control of some functions now handled by the federal government.
"I strongly believe in local control of schools. I believe the best way to chart the path to excellence for every child in America is to insist that authority and responsibility be aligned at the local level," he said.
He also realizes he needs help in Congress to get his plan through, which prompted him to single out Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, at yesterday's event. "I'm particularly nice to Senator Frist these days, since much of what I'm proposing is going to need to be passed out of the United States Senate."
Mr. Frist later said Mr. Bush's plan would get rid of the "red tape" of the bureaucratic Education Department by "streamlining" dozens of programs into just a handful.
The president will need to persuade some in his party that the Department of Education can be fixed. Some leading conservatives have tried for years to abolish the department, saying local jurisdictions should replace the bloated agency.
Both the chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee for education expressed reservations yesterday that there will be room in the budget for Mr. Bush's proposed education increases and a $1.6 trillion tax cut.
"Probably some of [the increased education spending] is worthwhile, but they've got to understand, it's got to be budgeted," said Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican and subcommittee chairman.
"It's got to be made up somewhere else," Mr. Regula said of the proposed spending increases. "I haven't heard any suggestions from the administration, and there aren't many easy places to reduce" spending.
Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that he is "skeptical" about combining the president's proposed education increases with a $1.6 trillion tax cut.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said "the president … thinks he can hold the line in some other departments."
In his short speech at the school, Mr. Bush called for moving control of the Head Start program from Health and Human Services to Education.
"We have to think differently about Head Start. Head Start should remain and will remain a place where children are treated for disease with a Health and Human Service component to it, but I think Head Start ought to be moved to the Department of Education to highlight the need to make sure that our youngsters get a head start on reading and math," Mr. Bush said.
The last time there was a debate about moving the $5.2 billion program to the Department of Education was in 1979, when the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was reorganized and its programs were reassigned, said Townley Mailler, director of governmental affairs for the National Head Start Association in Alexandria, Va.
Head Start advocates don't want to see the program moved, she said, because the Department of Health and Human Services is "better equipped" to handle the services, local partnerships and community development.
Last year, the Head Start program served 856,000 low-income toddlers, giving them meals, medical attention and preschool education.
Mr. Bush's two-day, three-state trip ended yesterday in the home state of the man he defeated to win the presidency. Despite repeated reports before Mr. Bush took office that he would be considered an illegitimate president because of his narrow victory, many lined the mountain roads to cheer him in a state he handily won in 2000.
Posted on the sign outside a ramshackle motel on the rural road leading to the school was this: "We voted for you, President Bush."
Dave Boyer and Cheryl Wetzstein contributed to this report in Washington.

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