Senate Panel Adopts Reauthorization Measure
Washington--The Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee last week unanimously approved a voluminous reauthorization bill that would extend a host of expiring education programs through 1993.
Like its House counterpart, HR 5, the bill would reauthorize the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Chapter 2 block grants, aid for magnet schools, impact aid, the Bilingual Education Act, and a number of smaller programs. It is similar to HR 5 in both form and substance, and, like the House bill, won almost unanimous praise from education advocates.
"Neither bill has obnoxious things in it. They're both very good bills in slightly different ways," said Michael Casserly, legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools.
"By the time this bill gets through Congress, it's going to be a terrific bill for education," added Gregory Humphrey, legislative director for the American Federation of Teachers.
The subcommittee made no major changes to the draft bill released the previous week. (See Education Week, Sept. 30, 1987.) The bill, S 373, is scheduled for consideration Oct. 14 by the full Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Some provisions, such as mathematics and science programs and the "star schools" telecommunications program, are duplicated in the trade bill now in House-Senate conference. These programs will be authorized for one year by the trade legislation and governed by provisions of the reauthorization bill afterward.
The star schools proposal was the subject of the only amendment attached to S 373 last week--a provision sponsored by Senator Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, requiring that half the program's funds be spent on programming as opposed to equipment.
The subcommittee's chairman, Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, stressed the bill's bipartisan support and praised Education Department officials for their "substantive and constructive role" in the reauthorization process.
"We're very pleased," said William Kristol, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's chief of staff, underscoring Senator Pell's remarks. "It's not that far from many of our proposals."
Mr. Kristol specifically praised Chapter 1 provisions, included in both bills, that would require districts to document the success of their programs. "I'm not sure that in the history of federal education policy the principle of accountability has ever been so meaningfully incorporated," he said.
He also lauded S 373's bilingual-education provisions and its proposal for a new parental-choice program, two of the bill's more controversial sections.
Bilingual-education advocates have vigorously opposed both bills' expansion of the amount of bilingual funds that can be awarded to programs that teach students mainly or totally in English. Reconciling the Senate plan to raise the cap on such awards from 4 percent to 25 percent of appropriations with HR45's approach, which allowed new bilingual funds to be used for such programs, will be one of the harder tasks in conference.
The parental-choice program, which has no counterpart in HR 5, caused concern that its $15-million authorization could be used to support voucher programs that the Administration favors and the education community militantly opposes.
"We have added additional language specifying that these programs are to be conducted in the public schools," said Ann Young, an aide to Senator Pell. "This does not in any way have a voucher attachment. It is for public school systems that want to8[abolish] attendance zones."
An expansion of the existing magnet-schools program, which Ms. Young confirmed was an Administration proposal, received a more positive reception. So did S 373's proposals for targeting Chapter 2 funds, which some advocates feared would be more restrictive.
While many education lobbyists are pleased with the bills' similar Chapter 1 sections, some civil-rights and child-advocacy groups say the Congress should have given parents more control over local programs and written more specific program-improvement requirements and tighter comparability requirements prohibiting districts from providing less local aid for Chapter 1 schools. Both bills would require districts to keep records documenting comparability and require state agencies to monitor compliance. But advocates favor rules specifying how much disparity in per-pupil spending and teacher-pupil ratios is permissible; such rules pertained before the Title I program became Chapter 1 in 1981.
Phyllis McClure, legislative director for the naacp Legal Defense and Education Fund, also criticized provisions that would make it easier for schools to use Chapter 1 funds in schoolwide improvement projects, particularly in combination with"meaningless" comparability rules.
The House bill would allow schools with 75 percent or more disadvantaged pupils to qualify, while S 373 would drop that floor to 60 percent. Both bills would drop the requirement that schools provide matching funds in proportion to the number of ineligible children participating.
Schools "will try to provide the same services with 25 percent less money," and "it would be impossible for anyone to determine if schoolwide projects were maintaining comparable levels of support" for Chapter 1 and non-program schools, Ms. McClure said.
Officials of the Council of Chief State School Officers had also hoped that some Chapter 1 funds would be set aside to assist states in monitoring local programs.