Bush to ask Congress to cut hundreds of programs to trim shortfall in college grants

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration wants to put hundreds of school and community programs on the chopping block so it can pay for a deficit in a popular college student grant program.

When he submits his 2003 budget on Monday, President Bush will ask Congress to scrap hundreds of small programs that lawmakers agreed to finance last year, including after-school, childcare and mentoring programs, literacy and computer programs, theater and dance programs, teacher training, scholarships and construction projects on government property, among others.

One of the more unusual projects he wants Congress to trim is an education program at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

The effort could set up a battle among lawmakers, who fight for such projects for their constituents.

Education Secretary Rod Paige said Wednesday that hundreds of programs should be sacrificed to glean money to pay off a deficit in the 30-year-old Pell Grant program.

Because the program does not turn away eligible students, it has had to give out more than its budget allowed. The result is a $1.3 billion shortfall Bush wants to eliminate. Savings from the programs he wants cut would erase the deficit.

For 2003, Bush is also expected to ask Congress to raise the Pell Grant budget from $10.3 billion to $10.9 billion to accommodate an increasing number of applicants.

Eighty-five percent of Pell recipients come from families with incomes below $30,000. The grant often pays a large share of a student's college expenses, but its purchasing power has dropped steadily over three decades.

Education Department officials at first offered few specifics of what they would like to see cut. Later, they provided a long list, including $200,000 for ``Rockin' the Schools,'' a program at the Rock Hall.

On the hall's Web site, the program is described as a set of interdisciplinary workshops for students in grades 6 through 12 that offers ``the opportunity to learn about the history, poetry and culture of rock and roll music.''

Terry Stewart, the museum's president, said the program has been taught to thousands of school children from northeastern Ohio over the past two years.

``Given that education is a significant part of our mission statement, we will be very disappointed if this program becomes a casualty of budget reduction,'' Stewart said.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, former mayor of Cleveland, said the move ``is inconsistent with the stated intentions of the president'' to fund education fully.

``We shouldn't be cutting education programs, and we shouldn't be forced to make a choice between cutting education programs,'' he said.

Another program for which funding could be cut is Classika Theatre in Arlington, Va., which teaches history through drama.

Alyona Ushe, Classika managing director, said the program has been ``extremely effective'' in after-school settings, raising fourth-graders' scores 75 percent last year on Virginia's state history test. Classika this month begins taking the program to regular classes, at the schools' invitation.

Charles Patterson, superintendent of the 30,000-student Killeen, Texas, school district, said a $2 million dollar grant that also is on the chopping block would help the district repair 50-year-old school buildings at nearby Fort Hood.

``We've got some major construction and renovation needs,'' he said.

The Pell program deficit grew because of an increase in the number of students entering college last year.

``When the economy started to slow down over a year ago, enrollments in post-secondary education grew,'' said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education, a trade association representing 1,800 public and private colleges.

The $10.3 billion program has run deficits before, Hartle said, but none this large since 1992.

Education Department officials said the $4,000 maximum grant was at stake if they did not ask for more money, but Hartle said it was never in jeopardy.

More than 4.4 million students receive Pell Grants, which average about $2,400. The grant has risen steadily for most of the past 30 years, but rising college costs have reduced its purchasing power.