San Diego Union Tribune

March 22, 2004

Programs facing the ax
Federal budget eliminates family literacy, other efforts


WASHINGTON Every day, teachers provide literacy training to dozens of children in San Diego and their parents.

Under the little-known Even Start program run by the U.S. Department of Education, the government provides $240 million to help families break out of poverty.

But Scott Himelstein, whose National Even Start Association based in Mission Valley represents 50,000 families enrolled in the program nationwide, has one word to say when he considers President Bush's proposed 2005 budget:

"Devastating," Himelstein said.

Himelstein is scheduled to testify this week before a House appropriations subcommittee evaluating the administration's planned budget cuts, which include the elimination of Even Start.

The program is similar to the more well-known federal Head Start programs that serve preschool children across the country.

Even Start is among 65 programs facing elimination by Bush, who wants to save $4.9 billion from the budget. Many programs facing the administration's ax are relatively hidden in the vast federal bureaucracy, from Even Start to an Olympics secondary schooling program in Chula Vista.

Bush's Office of Management and Budget contends that too many existing programs that it wants to cut are too similar to other programs or they have failed to meet their objectives.

"We took a look at these programs and some are not producing results," said Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Program representatives remain upbeat, saying they hope Congress will keep funding the programs, as it has often done in the past. Throughout the next few weeks, various committees in Congress are examining the programs to determine if they should be reinstated.

Even Start is among the national literacy programs facing the largest budget cuts. It serves families that earn less than $15,000 annually. San Diego's program includes eight centers that serve more than 80 families.

In fiscal 2005, the Bush administration believes Even Start should be eliminated. Funding for the program should be channeled to other reading programs, administration officials said.

For the past two years, the Bush administration has proposed cutting millions of dollars from the program. Last year, the administration proposed cutting $75 million. The money was reinstated by Congress.

"Three separate national evaluations of the program reached the same conclusion: Children and adults participating in Even Start generally did not make literacy gains that were greater than those of nonparticipants," according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Himelstein disagrees.

"They obviously have a philosophical difference in the value of family literacy, looking at literacy as a family issue," Himelstein said of Bush administration officials.

In San Diego, more than 70 percent of the children ages 3 and 4 enrolled in Even Start demonstrated gains in reading ability, and all the children in kindergarten through second grade achieved a grade promotion, Himelstein said. At least half the adults enrolled in the program received a high school diploma or equivalent General Educational Development credential, he said.

Other programs that have thrived for years in San Diego also face elimination or cuts under the Bush budget plan.

The B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship program has served athletes attending colleges and universities while they train at the Olympic Training Centers, including the one in Chula Vista.

The Bush administration has said there is no need cited for the $1 million program, which serves about 100 students. The administration tried to cut the program's funding last year, but Congress earmarked money for it.

Officials of the Olympic scholarship program are hoping Congress intervenes again.

"It's not at all a surprise, and absolutely it gets tiring," said Jeff Kleinschmidt, director of the U.S. Olympic Educational Center at Northern Michigan University.

Bush this coming year would eliminate all money for Community Development Block Grants, a long-standing and popular federal program that helps cities and counties pay for projects from sidewalk repairs to homeless shelters.

In San Diego County in recent years, such grants have helped pay for: the La Posada homeless shelter in Carlsbad; redeveloping blighted parts of downtown San Diego; a city of San Diego transportation program for the elderly; repairing long stretches of cracked sidewalk in central San Diego neighborhoods; and a Poway program that matches people who need low-cost housing with those who want to rent rooms.

"For 30 years, (the grants have) given local governments the flexibility to address community needs," said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "This cut will negatively impact cities nationwide."

The administration's proposal also would slash nearly $80 million for rehabilitation services for migrant workers and migrant-worker training programs under the Department of Labor.

Office of Management and Budget officials say other programs initiated by the administration would better serve migrants.

Ilene Jacobs, director of litigation for the California Rural Legal Assistance, said the existing programs for migrants "have served a lot of farm workers in California and elsewhere."

Bush's budget also would eliminate the Women's Educational Equity program by slashing its entire budget of $3 million. Congress created the program to promote gender equality in the classroom, largely through teacher training. Many Republicans argue that girls no longer need extra help in the classroom. Democrats insist that girls still face educational barriers.

Another program facing elimination is the $18 million National Writing Project, based at the University of California Berkeley the past 30 years.

The project is designed to improve how writing is taught in the nation's schools and includes 100,000 students from dozens of universities, including the UC San Diego.

"It's a great resource to improve literacy in America," said Mary Ann Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Writing Project. "I think our program is a boon to the No Child Left Behind initiative. Writing is increasingly important for the (Scholastic Assessment Test) and it's a gateway to college. I think we'll have support in Congress."