Budget, Extension of School Programs on Agenda as Congress Returns
Washington--Reconvening this week for the second half of the 100th Congress, lawmakers have on their agenda such education matters as initiatives to fund preschool education and child care, curb student loan defaults, overhaul the welfare system, and create college-savings programs, as well as legislation reauthorizing most precollegiate education programs.
Congressional aides said last week they would also work to translate into legislation proposals by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education for aid programs to lure minority students into teaching.
In addition, Senate aides said an effort may be launched to provide federal funding for the national teacher-certification board created last year by the Carnegie Foundation on Education and the Economy.
And, with the release of the Education Department's proposed spending plan about two weeks away, lobbyists are gearing up for another long budget battle.
The department will ask for more than $20 billion, the largest increase the Reagan Administration has requested for education.
But while the emphasis Presidential candidates are giving education and the national concern over economic competitiveness will keep it a hot topic through 1988, observers4say, the federal deficit will most likely prevent any large increases in education funding over the approximately $20 billion the Congress recently approved for fiscal 1988.
The deficit-reduction pact between the Congress and the White House--embodied in the 1988 budget--also calls for a total of $40 billion in cuts.
Education-committee staff members will meet this month, and conferees may meet as soon as early February, to iron out differences between House and Senate bills to reauthorize through 1993 the Chapter 1 program, Chapter 2 block grants, and a host of smaller programs.
"It will be relatively easy, just a matter of getting through a lot of stuff," said John Jennings, education counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee. "This is not a bill where there are major philosophical disagreements."
Aides said points of contention may include:
Chapter 1. The two bills set different formulas for allocating concentration grants for districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students. And while both bills include provisions designed to force improvements in unsuccessful Chapter 1 programs, the Senate legislation is more specific and gives state agencies more authority to monitor them.
The National Assessment of8Educational Progress. A Senate proposal to expand naep and allow comparisons of educational achievement by state has generated controversy, with some educators arguing that this would promote "teaching to the test." Another Senate proposal, for an optional national achievement test, has drawn similar criticism.
Bilingual education. Both HR 5 and S 373 would increase the percentage of federal funds that could go to schools using methods other than native-language instruction, but with differing specifics.
New programs to increase parental involvement and choice. House aides said no strong opposition to these Senate proposals has yet emerged, but it is too early to predict whether House conferees will go along.
Audit reform. Senate aides said their committees were still studying language in HR 5 that would restrict the Education Department's authority to recover allegedly misspent federal funds.
The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. While it was not included in S 373, aides said senators will support language requiring districts to report on the extent of drug use in their schools and measure improvement. The language, passed recently as part of an unre4lated bill, closely resembles Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's proposal for infusing "accountability" into the program. HR 5 would extend current law.
Several early-childhood initiatives will also be on the Congressional agenda.
The House Human Resources Subcommittee has scheduled a February hearing on HR 3660, which would provide $2.5 billion to improve the quality and availability of child care for low- and moderate-income families.
The Senate Children, Family, Drugs, and Alcoholism Subcommittee also plans hearings on a counterpart bill, S 1885, sponsored by its chairman, Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. Mr. Dodd has also introduced another bill, S 1995, to establish a child-care system within public schools.
The House is expected early in the session to take up HR 925, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was approved last year by the Eduel10lcation and Labor Committee.
The bill, which would require employers to provide unpaid leave to workers to care for newborn, newly adopted, or sick children, was opposed by the National School Boards Association. A similar bill is pending before Mr. Dodd's committee.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, announced last week that he planned to introduce legislation to create a national early-education program that would operate through the public schools or Head Start centers. Such a program would provide both high-quality preschool education for all children and child care for working parents, Mr. Kennedy said.
Child care will also be a focus in the debate on welfare reform. The House passed a $5-billion measure last year, and the Senate Finance Committee plans to hold hearings this term on a more modest, $2.3-billion plan sponsored by Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, Democrat of New York.
Both HR 1720 and S 1511 urge states to establish comprehensive job-training, education, and work programs designed to move low-income families with children off the welfare rolls and onto payrolls; both also include provisions for child care.
The Moynihan bill carries a leaner price tag because it does not include the substantial benefit increases that are in the House bill.
Other pending items include:
College savings plans. The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee plans to hold hearings on legislation, introduced last year by Mr. Kennedy and Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, that would allow families to use U.S. savings bonds to accumulate tax-free savings for education expenses.
A similar plan is expected to appear in the Education Department's 1989 budget, and Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana, chairman of the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee, is also drafting savings-bond legislation.
Student-loan defaults. Mr. Pell, chairman of the Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee, will soon introduce legislation based on ideas aired during recent hearings on the default problem, aides said, and will also continue pushing inclusion of a provision in a pending trade bill that would allow loan- guarantee agencies to halt dealings with institutions whose default rates are high.
Mr. Williams is also drafting legislation based on agreements reached during a recent conference he arranged in which education experts aired their views on the issue. Aides believe there will be some action on both defaults and college savings.
Voluntary national service. Mr. Pell will hold hearings later this year on proposals for youth-service programs, including his own, S 762, which would provide college-tuition aid to students who volunteer for community or military work. The House Employment Opportunities Subcommittee held hearings last year on several proposals.
National Science Foundation reauthorization. The Senate could at any time take up S 1632, sending it to conference with the House companion, HR 2330, which passed last year. Both bills would increase authorizations for the n.s.f.'s education programs, but the House bill would provide more money for precollegiate efforts.
Civil-rights restoration act. Legislation to restore civil-rights coverage narrowed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Grove City v. Bell was approved last year by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, but no action is yet scheduled in the full Senate, where the bill faces uncertain prospects.