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Gifted Education on the Chopping Block

This must feel familiar to those in the gifted education field: Every year that the Bush administration has created a budget, it has proposed eliminating the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, the only federally funded program specifically directed toward enhancing the ability of schools to meet these students' special education needs. And every year, the program has been maintained through Congressional action.

This year is no excepton. The fiscal 2009 budget released earlier this week by the White House proposed eliminating the Javits program and 46 others. Compared to the $59.8 billion in discretionary spending proposed for the Education Department, the $7.5 million Javits program is tiny. But eliminating Javits and other "ineffective" programs would free up nearly $3.3 billion that could be better spent on other programs, the administration says.

The rationale for eliminating Javits is that states generally bear the costs of gifted education, and Javits is too small to make much of a difference. Jane Clarenbach, the director of public education for the National Association for Gifted Children in Washington, has heard that before.To her, it makes no sense to devote money to programs that promote Advanced Placement courses or math and sciences without offering federal support for gifted education. The lack of federal funding also serves to keep gifted education mainly in affluent districts, where the tax base can support enrichment efforts. Poorer districts can't do that without more money, she said.

"For an unknown reason, this is seen as a population of children that is not worthy of federal support," she said.

But the Javits program does have some powerful friends, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. Last year, as part of the immigration bill that eventually stalled in Congress, he proposed increasing the amount that businesses pay the government for "skilled worker" visas and using part of the money as a permanent funding stream for the Javits program. Grassley's contention was that the visas are used to bring foreign skilled workers to the country, and it seems logical that at least part of the money be used to teach homegrown skilled workers of the future.

Business interests have fought increases in visa fees, and the amendments have not yet come to fruition, but Grassley has told supporters he's not giving up. "I have absolute confidence we'll see it again," Clarenbach said.

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