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Education cuts coming, but fewer than GOP wanted

The final spending deal struck by the White House and congressional leaders spares the Education Department the deeper cuts sought by House Republicans, according to the agreement reached Friday. Under the compromise - the details of which started trickling out late Monday night - the popular Pell Grant and pre-kindergarten Head Start programs are preserved, as is funding for the administration's Race to the Top initiative.

Other Education Department programs weren't so lucky, with funding reduced for about two dozen programs, though many of the multimillion-dollar cuts already had been proposed by President Obama in his 2011 spending plan.

For example, $213 million will be chopped from the Fund for the Improvement of Education, but the program still will get $14 million more than originally requested by Mr. Obama. The cut is based on fiscal 2010 levels.

Striving Readers, a program to boost literacy rates among middle- and high-school students, takes a $250 million hit, but the White House nixed funding altogether for the program in its 2011 budget proposal. About $100 million for Educational Technology State Grants is on the chopping block, but those, too, were singled out for elimination by Mr. Obama.

But some programs not only were spared but will get more money than the administration was looking for. The Teaching of Traditional American History, designed to help fund classes devoted to U.S. history, will lose $73 million from 2010 levels but will get $46 million more this year than the administration requested.

Critics believe the cuts put school districts behind the eight ball because they already are battling funding cuts at the state level and dwindling federal stimulus money.

"You have a confluence, sort of like a triple whammy," said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. "I think there are going to be significant layoffs across the country. I think there are going to be bigger class sizes across the country."

With other programs, the White House didn't fare as well.

Adult education will be cut by $31 million, although the White House was looking for increased investment. Safe Schools funding was chopped by $104 million from last year's allocation and will get $331 million less this year than Mr. Obama wanted.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called the cuts "painful" but said priorities, such as Pell grants and Head Start, were saved, as was Race to the Top, a competitive grant program with incentives for states to turn around failing schools.

"Now that this debate is almost over, Congress can refocus on the full budget for the next fiscal year and the long term," Mr. Harkin told The Washington Times on Tuesday. "It remains my hope that the next measure will include spending cuts and necessary revenue increases, while making room for critical investments in education" and other key areas.

While the Pell Grant program's maximum award of $5,550 remains in place, college students no longer will be able to get an additional grant for taking summer classes. Mr. Obama supports the elimination of the "two Pells" provision and proposed it in his 2012 plan, telling reporters last week that it is "a little too expensive" given the nation's fiscal situation.

But the GOP is looking for bigger cuts and wants to reduce Pell Grant spending to "pre-stimulus levels," cutting the annual federal allocation by about half while blaming Democrats for doubling the size of the program since Mr. Obama took office.

Among the programs on the chopping block are the National Writing Project, International Education and Foreign Language, AmeriCorps and programs to mentor the children of prisoners.

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