Dun­can de­fends big in­crease in school fund­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can used Thurs­day’s ap­pear­ance be­fore a key House sub­com­mit­tee to not only de­fend the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for a $1.7 bil­lion in­crease in school fund­ing for fis­cal 2013, but also to rip the GOP bud­get pro­posal laid out by Rep. Paul Ryan ear­lier this week.

“How­ever well-in­ten­tioned, the Ryan plan would lead to catas­trophic cuts in ed­u­ca­tion,” Mr. Dun­can said of the blue­print put forth by Mr. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Re­pub­li­can and chair­man of the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee. Mr. Ryan’s panel passed his pro­posal Wed­nes­day night, and it is ex­pected to come to the House floor as early as next week.

Both Mr. Ryan’s pro­posal and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get are un­likely to be­come law, and the Demo­crat-con­trolled Se­nate is poised to forgo a for­mal bud­get for the fourth year in a row.

De­spite its poor prospects for pas­sage, the Ryan plan, which over the next decade al­lots $5.2 tril­lion less than the Obama pro­posal, was held up by Mr. Dun­can as an ex­am­ple of Repub­li­cans’ in­tent to bal­ance “the bud­get on the backs of Amer­ica’s stu­dents.”

He told the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on la­bor, health and hu­man ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion and re­lated agen­cies that, if the Ryan pro­posal is adopted, Ti­tle I fund­ing, Head Start and other pro­grams could see dras­tic cuts. Mr. Dun­can ac­knowl­edged the na­tion’s dire fi­nan­cial straits and mount­ing debt, yet still called on Congress to ramp up ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, paint­ing it as the most ef­fec­tive way to build a qual­i­fied, com­pe­tent Amer­i­can work­force.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get calls for a 2.5 per­cent in­crease in ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, push­ing the depart­ment’s dis­cre­tionary bud­get to nearly $70 bil­lion. It seeks about $1 bil­lion in new spend­ing for the pop­u­lar grant pro­gram Race to the Top to cre­ate a new con­test for col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. It also would fund a first-ever dis­trictlevel com­pe­ti­tion; pre­vi­ous rounds were con­ducted at the state level.

The spend­ing plan main­tains the max­i­mum Pell Grant award at $5,550 per stu­dent, makes per­ma­nent a col­lege tax credit worth up to $10,000 per stu­dent over four years, and would stop in­ter­est rates on fed­eral loans from dou­bling later this year.

While agree­ing that ed­u­ca­tion must re­main a pri­or­ity, some House Repub­li­cans blasted the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal for call­ing for big spend­ing in­creases while ig­nor­ing the na­tion’s fis­cal re­al­ity.

“Is this im­por­tant enough that we bor­row from Red China to pay for it and give the bill to our grand­kids?” asked Rep. Harold Rogers, Ken­tucky Re­pub­li­can and chair­man of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “We haven’t got this mes­sage through to the coun­try yet, but we have a real prob­lem.”

Mr. Rogers ac­knowl­edged that the Re­pub­li­can plan makes sub­stan­tial cuts but said such re­duc­tions are nec­es­sary. The Re­pub­li­can pro­posal, he added, “bites the bul­let,” while Mr. Obama’s bud­get sim­ply of­fers more of the same spend­ing in­creases seen over the past three years.

The Obama pro­posal also seeks to tackle ever-ris­ing col­lege tuition costs by pun­ish­ing in­sti­tu­tions that raise rates year af­ter year. If adopted, it would tie the more than $1 bil­lion in fed­eral money for cam­pus work-study pro­grams to tuition lev­els, and uni­ver­si­ties that re­duce costs would get a big­ger slice of the pie. Those that con­tinue to in­crease tuition would get less.

“Some [col­leges] are be­ing very re­spon­si­ble. Oth­ers are not. We just want to in­cen­tivize the good ac­tors,” Mr. Dun­can said. “What­ever we do with [in­creas­ing] Pell Grants . . . it just won’t be enough” with­out other ways to push schools to lower costs.

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