Congress Returns to Education Issues
Washington--Members of the Congress return here next week to confront an agenda crowded with education items and very little time to deal with them.
According to House and Senate observers, the second session of the 98th Congress could be characterized by more recess time than working days.
Congressional leaders plan to end the session on Oct. 4 in order to give members time to campaign for the Nov. 6 elections. By comparison, the last session of Congress lasted until Nov. 18.
The representatives and senators also will take off practically all of July and August for the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Chief among Congressional priorities is the passage of a budget for fiscal 1985; work on the budget will begin shortly after President Rea-gan's Jan. 25 State of the Union ad-dress.
Documents from the Office of Management and Budget dated Jan. 3 indicate that the Administration will seek $6.75 billion for major elementary and secondary education programs--about a 3.5-percent increase over fiscal 1984 levels--and $6.35 billion for Guaranteed Student Loans and other college financial-aid programs--about a 1-percent increase over current levels of funding. The President's budget will be released officially on Jan. 30.
Before turning to the budget, however, the House plans to investigate the topic of discipline and order in public schools during hearings on Jan. 23 and 24 before its Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education.
A White House working group officially released a report last week indicating that crime, vandalism, and disorder have been on the rise in the schools during the past five years. Classroom discipline was also the focus of a radio address by Mr. Reagan on Jan. 7 and is expected to figure prominently in his State of the Union speech. (The text of the President's radio address appears on page 14.)
On Jan. 25 and 26, the House education subcommittee plans to turn its attention to an Education Department report, released earlier this month, that ranked the states and the District of Columbia on students' performance on college-admission tests, expenditures for education, and other indicators. (See Databank on page 12 and Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984.)
Among the other education issues scheduled for consideration:
Vocational Education. The reauthorization of federal vocational-education programs is also likely to receive prompt attention from the Congress, according to House and Senate staff members.
The vocational programs, which are receiving $731 million in the current fiscal year, are officially authorized only through Sept. 30. But if the Congress fails to complete action on a reauthorization measure before adjourning, the programs will be granted an automatic one-year extension under the terms of the 1980 law that created the Education Department.
According to House aides, HR 4164, a reauthorization measure that was drafted in large part by the American Vocational Association, is the main proposal up for discussion in that chamber.
The bill would restructure the current system of allocating federal vocational-education funds, channeling a larger share to institutions providing postsecondary and adult training. Supporters of the measure say it would be a "modified block grant" that would give local officials more flexibility to design programs to meet national job-training needs.
Education leaders in the Senate, however, are dissatisfied with the ava's bill and are drafting a reauthorization proposal that will place more focus on the job-training needs of disadvantaged populations, according to a Senate aide.
Child Nutrition. After acting on the vocational-education proposal, the House education panel plans to turn to the reauthorization of five child-nutrition programs that are scheduled to expire at the end of the current fiscal year, according to committee aides. Included among these are the summer meal and nutrition-education programs, which together are funded at $105million, and the program to help states offset administrative expenses, which receives $50 million.
Unlike the vocational-education programs, these programs will not receive an automatic one-year extension if the Congress fails to reauthorize them. Aides said the "must" nature of this legislation will help ease the way for its passage.
Last week, a Presidential panel investigating hunger in America recommended that these and other federal child-nutrition programs be incorporated into block grants to states that would support all food-aid programs. It remains unclear whether the President will ask the Congress to address this proposal; House aides speculated that such a plan would receive little support.
"Catch-All" Bill. The short amount of working time available this session has, in part, prompted Democrats on the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education to consider incorporating a number of other items requiring action into an omnibus, or "catch-all," bill.
According to House aides, the measure as now envisioned would reauthorize the following programs: bilingual education; impact-aid payments to school districts that enroll children whose parents live or work at federal installations; adult educa-tion; women's educational equity; Indian education; the National Assessment of Educational Progress; and the National Center for Education Statistics.
All of the programs are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. But like the vocational-education programs, they would automatically be extended for a year should the omnibus bill or separate reauthorization bills fail.
According to lobbyists, the creation of an omnibus bill of this sort might open the way for resolution of a dispute in the Congress that has prevented the passage of a federal initiative in mathematics and science education.
The $400-million, House-passed version of the math-and-science bill has been bottled up in the Senate since last March by opponents to a proposed rider that would resurrect the Emergency School Aid Act, which provided aid to school districts undergoing desegregation. The desegregation-aid program was folded into the Chapter 2 education block-grants program in 1981.
According to the lobbyists, Senate supporters of the esaa rider might be persuaded to add their amendment to the omnibus bill if it reaches that chamber, thus freeing up the mathematics-and-science measure for final consideration.
Student aid. Late last week, the chairman of the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee was expected to disclose his plan for the reauthorization and restructuring of federal student financial-aid programs, which are also set to expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
According to a spokesman for Representative Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, the proposal will call for the consolidation of all existing federal aid programs into two new federal grant and loan programs.