Democrats seek more federal aid to education

WASHINGTON -- The nation's economic downturn has forced states to cut billions of dollars from their education budgets, leading congressional Democrats to push for more federal education spending.

Democrats, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California, cite an expected $11.3 billion shortfall in state education budgets in fiscal year 2002. Congressional analysts compiled the figures from state budget offices. Their report will be released today.

"The faltering economy is putting at risk the advancements many states are making to improve the quality of their educational systems," Miller said.

Congressional negotiators are working to reconcile differences in education bills approved by the House and the Senate.

The Republican-controlled House proposes about $24 billion in spending. The Senate, run by Democrats, wants $33 billion. The federal government has spent $18.4 billion this year on elementary and secondary education.

Dave Schnittger, spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the bill isn't just about money.

"To simply provide massive new funding increases without providing red-tape relief for schools and insisting on better results would be fundamentally unfair to the next generation of American children," he said.

David Shreve of the National Conference of State Legislatures said he doubts the money included in the education bill will help much.