Washington — Education Secretary Margaret Spellings appeared before the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee today to deliver budget testimony, the last time she will do so in defense of a budget by President Bush. Both sides appeared to be glad it was over.
Ms. Spellings endured a full two hours of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans on the panel’s education subcommittee, facing complaints of insufficient funds for dozens of education programs in Mr. Bush’s budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
In addition to complaining that grade-school programs such as those mandated under the No Child Left Behind law were being shortchanged, subcommittee members vented frustration over recommended cuts or minimal increases in such areas as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education program, support for historically black colleges, and programs that help college-bound high-school students.
Democrats were harsh, with Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois calling the administration’s budget priorities “a bunch of garbage,” and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut saying she was glad today was the last time she had to hear Ms. Spellings defend the president’s priorities. But Republicans were barely kinder, with Rep. John E. Peterson of Pennsylvania saying the administration’s budget “puts a zero priority on technical education,” and Rep. Dennis R. Rehberg of Montana accusing Ms. Spellings of neglecting American Indians. “I don’t know what you guys are smoking over there,” Mr. Rehberg told Ms. Spellings, “but it just ain’t working.”
Ms. Spellings fought back by telling lawmakers that the administration, at a time of fiscal constraint, has been emphasizing larger-scale programs with a proven ability to work, such as Pell Grants, while cutting back on programs that federal analysts have found to be ineffective or too small to produce significant results.
“There is a preference toward statewide activities at the department, as we saw in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, that can be more strategic, more effective,” Ms. Spellings said, “because they are looked at in the context of state laws.” —Paul Basken