Education Programs Face the Ax

WASHINGTON — More than half the 65 federal programs that President Bush wants to kill next year are related to education, a move that could further inflame Democratic detractors who for the last year have been questioning his commitment to education.

Bush proposed eliminating the programs Monday as he sent Congress his budget plan for fiscal 2005, which begins in October. The White House said that killing the 65 programs would save a projected $4.9 billion, a small amount compared to this year's record $521-billion deficit.

It is far from clear, however, that Congress will go along with Bush's blueprint. The president has tried to kill some of the same projects before, but Congress has kept funding them.

Of the 65 programs targeted this time around, 38 are in the Department of Education, according to the president's budget document. They account for $1.4 billion in projected savings.

Overall, the president is seeking $57.3 billion for the Department of Education, which many previous Republican administrations and GOP-controlled Congresses have sought to eliminate altogether. That amount represents a $1.7 billion increase, or 3%, over the fiscal year 2004 level.

Although Josh Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the White House, announced at a briefing Monday that Bush wanted to terminate the 65 programs, his office declined to release a complete list of the programs, leaving activists for education, housing and labor programs scrambling to learn the fate of their favorite endeavors.

Bolten said 63 additional "major" programs faced significant spending reductions.

The projects Bush would eliminate included a $246-million effort to improve early childhood education in low-income neighborhoods and a $174-million program to foster learning in large high schools. Also targeted are programs that help gifted and talented students, promote arts in education and attempt to stop students from dropping out.

A White House spokesman said many of the programs were "well-meaning," but also duplicative or no longer useful.

"This president's philosophy is to provide maximum flexibility and block-grant dollars to state and local school districts to design what they feel they need to educate their students, in line with the No Child Left Behind Act," said Trent Duffy, deputy White House press secretary.

But lawmakers on Capitol Hill may have different ideas.

For instance, Bush a year ago proposed killing an 11-year-old Department of Housing and Urban Development program known as Hope VI, which at one time dispersed as much as $500 million a year to public housing authorities around the country to help them raze dilapidated structures. But Congress kept Hope VI alive by appropriating $150 million for the effort, HUD spokeswoman Donna White said.

Bush is seeking again to end funding for the program, which has been awarded a total of about $5 billion since its inception.

While "Hope VI has done a wonderful job," Duffy said, a parallel effort known as the HOME program is producing "a much better result in getting people into housing — faster and at less cost per unit." Duffy conceded that killing a program is difficult in Washington, given the constituencies they acquire around the country.

Other efforts marked for extinction include a $6-million program to improve rural housing and a $170-million initiative to promote technology development.

Duffy said that the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program, a government-industry partnership to enable and accelerate the development of emerging technologies, is no longer needed. He said the program was timely when it was created in the 1980s, but is unnecessary now because U.S. technological know-how is "very competitive in the world market."

A year ago, Bush proposed cutting the effort's funding to $27 million, but Congress appropriated $170 million, said Connie Partoyan, a top Commerce Department official.

Also on Bush's chopping block is the $6-million Rural Community Development Initiative. The Department of Agriculture program seeks to provide technical assistance to promote housing and economic development in rural areas.

Education activists on Monday protested the White House proposal to cut those programs. Among them was Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who worked with Bush to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, which imposed new testing and accountability standards for public schools.

Miller, along with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), since has accused the president of not following through on his commitment to the act.

"President Bush had to choose between honoring his word to public schools, veterans, college students and Americans looking for jobs, and giving billions more in tax cuts to the richest Americans," Miller said Monday. "His budget makes it clear that he chose to honor the richest Americans, who have not been asked to make one sacrifice during the president's tenure in office."

The National Education Assn. also lambasted Bush for what it said was insufficient education funding. The group's president, Reg Weaver, said the NEA was "profoundly disappointed" that Bush had proposed the smallest increase for education in seven years — "at a time when schools and states are being hammered by budget cutbacks and rising demands."