The Democrat-controlled House Education and Labor Committee came to Los Angeles Saturday and heard what it wanted to hear--a series of denunciations of the Reagan Administration's proposed education budget.
"This Administration has been talking more--and doing less--about education than any other in recent memory," said Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who accused President Reagan of "unenlightened stinginess" toward education.
Since taking office in 1981, Reagan has succeeded in freezing, although not cutting, federal aid to the public schools. His latest budget proposal calls for cuts in benefits to middle-class college students seeking federally subsidized loans and, to a lesser extent, middle-class public school children who get subsidized lunches.
Wants an Increase
Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), the new chairman of the House panel, said Saturday that instead of shrinking the federal government's role in education, as Reagan has suggested, he wants to increase it.
"Our purpose is to push education to the top of the agenda for congressional consideration and national attention," Hawkins said. "Education is too essential to our national purpose to be buried in a casket labeled 'deficit reduction.' "
Los Angeles school Supt. Harry Handler said the nation's second largest school district gets about 8% of its $2.4-billion annual budget from Washington. The money is mostly directed to helping disadvantaged, handicapped or non-English-speaking children.
Since 1981, Handler said, federal aid to Los Angeles schools has risen from $129 million to $163 million. But because of inflation, this "represents a one-third reduction," he added. Reagan's budget for 1986 calls for freezing these aid programs at their current levels.
"In Los Angeles, the effect on the instructional program (of this action) can best be described in one word--devastating," Handler told the committee.
Lunch Program Hit
The superintendent added, however, that most severe budget cuts will hit the cafeteria, not the classroom. The Administration is seeking to phase out federal lunch subsidies for middle-class students. If this plan is approved, these children will have to pay an extra 25 cents a day for their lunches, and many will drop out of the program, Handler said.
The House committee said that because of budget cuts since 1981, along with the resulting higher prices in the cafeteria, 3 million fewer students nationwide are buying lunch at school.
White House Budget Director David Stockman has defended the proposed cuts by arguing that the public schools are run by the states, not the federal government. Moreover, he said, states such as California, which has a projected budget surplus of more than $1 billion, could afford to make up for these federal reductions if they chose to.
The Reagan Administration's most controversial education proposal would limit federally subsidized student loans to pupils from families earning less than $32,500 a year. A college student could also receive no more than $4,000 a year in federal aid under the Administration's plan.
In 1978, the Carter Administration, seeking to squelch a proposed tuition tax credit for college students, took the lid off federally subsidized student loans. Previously, such loans had been limited to students whose families earned less than $25,000 a year. Since then, the federal cost of the program has skyrocketed as more and more families take advantage of the loans, which have relatively low interest rates.
In 1984, the U.S. Department of Education spent $2.2 billion to subsidize the loans, and it expects to spend about $3.1 billion this year. By reimposing an income ceiling on the program, the department said it hopes to limit the program to $2.7 billion in 1986.
Education Secretary William J. Bennett, in vigorously defending the proposed cuts last week, said the Administration wants to concentrate its college aid on the poorest students.
University of California officials meeting in Los Angeles Friday said they expect that at least 10,000 of the system's 167,000 students would suffer cuts in support if the Reagan budget is approved. The impact would be even worse at the high-cost private colleges and universities, UC Vice President William Baker pointed out.
California State University Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds said at Saturday's hearing that the 19-campus state university system is seeking to increase its enrollment of minority students, many of whom come from poor families.
"It is essential that we be able to provide sufficient financial aid to our needy students," Reynolds said. "The Administration's recent budget proposals are particularly discouraging since they lead to a contraction rather than expansion."
She estimated that 15,000 of the Cal State system's 316,000 students "will have some portion of their financial aid assistance reduced under the Administration's proposals."