- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 19, 2005

President Bush’s budget would slash $5.5 billion of funding for 48 so-called pet projects of members of Congress to boost spending for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Among the threatened programs are more than $1 billion in grants for vocational education and $41 million in scholarships named after Democratic stalwart Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.

One-third of 150 federal categorical programs targeted for shutdown in the Bush budget are in the Education Department, for a proposed savings of $4.3 billion. But the axed programs have strong backers in Congress from both parties, assuring a tough political battle that could generate a lot of heat and fury over the coming months.

The list includes a $5 million Literacy Programs for Prisoners, a favorite of Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds education programs.

Mr. Specter said of the president’s cuts: “They’re unacceptable.”

According to an Education Department budget summary, the prisoner-literacy project duplicates a Justice Department program. However, Mr. Specter has successfully defied efforts since 1996 of both the Clinton and Bush administrations to eliminate it.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and president pro tempore of the Senate, has successfully protected an $8.6 million museum program called Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners, which celebrates the U.S. whaling industry. Mr. Stevens was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee until this year and defied the president’s efforts for four years to cut spending for the program, which also is strongly supported by Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry.

“Elimination is consistent with administration policy of terminating small categorical programs with limited impact in order to fund higher priorities,” the department budget summary says.

Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and Appropriations Committee member, is chief sponsor of a $2.2 million Underground Railroad Program enacted in 1998, which helped fund the construction and operations of a museum in Cincinnati to honor the 19th-century operation to help slaves escape.

The museum is open and already has raised a $100 million endowment with the help of black celebrities including Muhammad Ali and Oprah Winfrey. After six years of federal funding, “the program has largely achieved its original purpose,” the department summary says.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the programs the president called for eliminating “undermine the administration’s philosophy embedded in the budget that we ought to be about results for kids.”

Thirty-three of the programs cost less than $50 million, with 15 of those programs funded under $5 million. Mrs. Spellings said the small amounts of funding of these programs “also impede the ability for states to get a critical mass of resources and chart the path to excellence the president, since he was governor of Texas, has talked about.

“I think it’s hard to conceive of a national program for 50 states plus the territories and the District that could gain critical mass for $5 million. It’s just not consistent with our overarching philosophy,” Mrs. Spellings said.

Department budget officer C. Todd Jones said the $1.2 billion in vocational education state grant and national spending would be redirected to the administration’s proposed high school initiative, which would extend the No Child Left Behind Act’s learning-achievement accountability provisions in reading and mathematics to ninth through 12th grades.

Similarly, $83 million spent on safe and drug-free schools and communities state grants would be poured into a nationwide program, bumping spending of that program to $317 million. The remaining $354 million for the state initiative would be cut.

“It doesn’t work,” Mr. Jones said of the state program. “There’s too little money spread too thinly.” A larger national program provides greater flexibility to make large enough local awards to support “quality interventions,” he said.

A spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House committee that oversees education programs, said the congressman supports the president’s proposed cuts.

“In a nutshell, he’s proposing to increase spending for education programs that make the biggest difference, by consolidating smaller programs that, comparatively speaking, come with more strings attached and provide less bang for the buck,” said David Schnittger, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

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