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Bill To Extend School Programs Sails Through House Committee

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WASHINGTON--The House Education and Labor Committee last week approved, with mostly minor amendments, a mammoth piece of legislation that would reauthorize every federal law aiding elementary and secondary education--except for those regulating vocational and handicapped programs--through 1993.

Avoiding open confrontations over any major issue other than bilingual education, the panel's members and staff worked behind the scenes to iron out most of the measure's details. The bill, HR 5, also known as "the school improvement act,'' now goes to the full House.

In magnitude and complexity, the bill's centerpiece is the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, which would be expanded to cover preschool and high-school students. Also, it would channel an additional $400 million in "concentration grants'' to high-poverty areas, and, under an amendment approved last week, the grant formula would be rewritten to redress inequities for rural school districts.

The bill also authorizes $30 million to help districts comply with the Aguilar v. Felton decision, a 1985 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that forbids the use of public-school teachers to provide compensatory services on parochial-school premises. But the committee rejected a proposal by Representative Stephen J. Solarz, Democrat of New York, to increase the aid to $40 million.

Laurels for the Legislation

Praise for the legislation came from several quarters last week, reflecting the consensus approach of Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the committee's chairman.

"The bill is the moon and the stars on a number of real important fronts,'' said Michael Casserly, legislative director of the Council of Great City Schools. He singled out the committee's commitment to financing the concentration grants under Chapter 1, new requirements for parental involvement, aid to dropout-prevention programs, and reforms in magnet-school assistance.

William Kristol, chief of staff to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, also expressed support for many aspects of the bill, while adding that the Education Department is likely to support some amendments on the House floor.

"The Chapter 1 part is not too bad from our point of view,'' he said, even though the panel ignored the Education Department's voucher proposal. Several "principles that we care a lot about'' were incorporated into the bill, he said, such as provisions to reward exemplary schools and to hold others more accountable for student performance.

Mr. Kristol said the department objected, however, to a reorganization of the Center for Education Statistics, which would make its director a Presidential appointee. Such a revamping would simply create needless bureaucracy, he argued.

Representative Peter J. Visclosky, the Indiana Democrat who sponsored the proposal, argued that the change was necessary to insulate that office from undue political influence.

But Mr. Kristol accused the panel of "showboating'' on the issue.

"No one has accused us of influencing the center,'' he said. "It's been utterly pristine. We haven't cooked any data or anything.''

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