98th Congress Has Full Education Agenda as Session Nears Close
Washington--The 98th Congress returned here last week with a number of major education matters left on its agenda and only 23 working days left before its scheduled Oct. 4 adjournment date.
Heading the list of unfinished education business is the passage of an appropriations bill for the Education Department for fiscal 1985, which begins on Oct. 1. Also pending are a major overhaul of federal aid to vocational education, the rewriting of four key antidiscrimination statutes, and action on a measure that has linked school prayer to the reauthorization of 11 federal education programs.
Although a number of other education measures are also awaiting final disposition, Congressional aides' and education lobbyists generally agreed that most will probably fall by the wayside in the rush by House and Senate members to complete action on other major pieces of legislation before returning home to campaign for re-election.
Money Bill Threatened
According to Congressional aides, action on the Education Department's spending bill, which was passed by the full House on Aug. 1 and by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 29, could be delayed by a dispute in the Senate over defense spending and the Congressional budget process.
A group of Senate Democrats, led by Senator Lawton Chiles of Florida, last month began stalling action on all appropriations bills because the Congress, in violation of its own rules, has failed to adopt a budget resolution setting spending and revenue targets for all government agencies.
Technically, the budget resolution must be passed before the Congress can consider appropriations bills. A dispute over the defense-spending target has held up final action on the budget bill.
According to an assistant to Senator Chiles, House and Senate leaders were working last week to arrange a "summit meeting" to resolve the budget-resolution problem. The aide said that if the discussion is "meaningful," Senator Chiles would stop holding up action on appropri-ations bills.
Other Congressional aides and lobbyists noted that if the Senate Democrat's filibustering of appropriations bills continues, fiscal 1985 funding for the Education Department and all other agencies for which regular appropriations bills have not been passed would have to be provided for under a temporary spending measure known as a continuing resolution. In previous years, negotiators have set spending for the department under these bills by comparing line items in the House and Senate versions of the regular appropriations measure and adopting the lower of the two.
Both versions of the Education Department spending bill, HR 6028 and S 2836, would set total funding for the agency at approximately $17.2 billion in fiscal 1985, a $1.9-billion increase over current levels.
This week, House and Senate negotiators are expected to begin what aides said would be the difficult process of crafting a compromise bill to reauthorize federal vocational-education programs.
According to a Senate aide, a recent side-by-side comparison of the bills passed by the House on March 8 and the Senate on Aug. 8 revealed "at least 250 differences."
Nonetheless, House and Senate aides said they were optimistic that the conference committee on the measure could find enough common ground to agree on a compromise bill revamping federal vocational-education aid for the first time since 1976.
The House version of the bill, HR 4164, would continue to channel aid to school districts through grants to states. It also continues the earmarking of 10 percent of the grants for programs serving the handicapped, 15 percent for the disadvantaged, and 15 percent for adult and postsecondary education. Under a new requirement, states would have to set aside 5 percent of their grants for sex-equity programs.
The Senate version of HR 4164 also retains the existing state-grant structure for disbursing aid to districts, but goes further in narrowing the purposes of the aid. Half of the grants would be earmarked for ''special-needs" students, with 50 percent of that amount set aside for the disadvantaged, 25 percent for the handicapped, 23 percent for single parents and homemakers, and 2 percent for prison inmates.
The remaining half of the state grants would be designated for the improvement and modernization of vocational programs, with 10 percent earmarked for joint programs with industry and 30 percent for training programs for adults.
The optimism expressed by the aides regarding the vocational-education measure stood in sharp contrast to their predictions on the fate of a bill that would reauthorize 11 education programs and would allow public-school students to pray silently in school at any time.
According to House and Senate staff members, appointees to the conference committee on the bill, S2496, will have a difficult time reconciling their differences over several House-passed provisions in the bill. Among them are the extension of bilingual- and Indian-education programs, the extension of certain impact-aid payments to school dis-tricts, and a provision directing the Secretary of Education to upgrade certain offices in his department that were downgraded during a controversial reorganization of the department last year.
This week, the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee will once again hold a hearing to mark up a measure that its sponsors say would strengthen statutes barring discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, or handicap.
On six previous occasions, the committee chairman, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who opposes the measure, has scheduled and then canceled mark-up sessions on the proposed civil-rights act of 1984, which was introduced shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last February, in Grove City College v. Bell, that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies in cases of discrimination against women not to educational institutions as a whole, but only to "programs or activities" that receive federal aid directly. Similar language is found in anti-bias laws regarding age, race, and handicap.
The bill before the Senate, S 2568, would amend Title IX and the other anti-discrimination statutes to prevent "recipients" of federal aid from engaging in discriminatory practices.
Senate aides said that if the committee fails yet again to act favorably on the measure, Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, one of the bill's co-sponsors, could use a parliamentary maneuver to bring it to the chamber's floor for a vote. The House passed its version of the bill on June 26.