BEFORE the 104th Congress adjourns this year, local school boards across the United States may see some federal education funds coming back home marked ''Return to Sender.''
By consolidating federal programs and providing block grants to states, the new GOP leadership hopes to reduce the cost of education and return decisionmaking to the local level. ''The federal government has failed at education and the time has come to give the money back to local school boards and parents so they can run public education,'' says Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas.
But critics worry that a diminished federal presence could leave schools bereft of funds and US education policy adrift. Hearings to scrutinize Washington's role in funding education have already begun on Capitol Hill. Later this week, former education secretaries William Bennett and Lamar Alexander are scheduled to outline an education bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats (R) of Indiana.
Other than calling for the elimination of government interest subsidies on college loans, the GOP ''Contract With America'' does not address education funding directly. But other high-priority goals in the Contract, such as welfare reform and the balanced-budget amendment, may require substantial cuts in federal education funds.
''The Republicans have to find billions of dollars somewhere without raising taxes. So the threat to education is very real in the first 100 days,'' says John Jennings, director of the Center for National Education Policy in Washington.
The need for spending cuts coupled with the fundamental GOP goal to shift responsibilities from the federal government to the states could lead to substantial changes.