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Omnibus Education Bill Is Sent to Full Senate

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Washington--The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee voted unanimously last week to send its omnibus education-reauthorization bill to the full Senate.

Although the measure is essentially the same legislation passed earlier this fall by the panel's education subcommittee, newly added language would alter a Chapter 1 grant formula and create new programs to aid rural education and foster innovative school improvements.

The bill, renamed HR 5 to match its House companion, would reauthorize a long list of programs, including the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Chapter 2 block grants, magnet-schools assistance, bilingual-education grants, and impact aid.

The $18-million program to promote school innovation was added at the behest of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the full committee, who previewed the idea at a hearing this month in Boston. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1987.)

Terry Hartle, an aide to the Massachusetts Democrat, said the proposed "fund for the improvement and reform of schools and teaching" was modeled after the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

Under the proposal, a board appointed by the Secretary of Education would award grants to school districts, state agencies, and higher-education institutions to help support innovative ideas for improving precollegiate education. The fund would particularly emphasize plans that aimed to improve teaching and included the use of monetary or other incentives to encourage school reform.

The $10-million rural-education initiative would create 10 regional centers to provide assistance and training to rural school districts, with priority given to those with high poverty rates and declining student achievement.

Chapter 1 Formula

The final version of the committee's bill also includes a revised formula for allocating concentration grants under Chapter 1. The change was designed to "ensure comparability interstate as well as intrastate," according to Mr. Hartle.

Under the original version of the bill, such grants would have been distributed to states based on the number of Chapter 1-eligible students exceeding specified thresholds. A similar formula is included in the version of HR 5 passed by the House last May.

As amended by the full Labor and Human Resources panel, however, the Senate bill specifies that only half of the money would be distributed to the states on that basis; the other half would be allocated according to the regular Chapter 1 formula. States would then be required to distribute their concentration funds among counties largely on the basis of the concentration thresholds, which are slightly higher in the House bill than in the Senate version.

The change adopted by the Senate committee would allot more concentration money to rural states whose disadvantaged students are not concentrated in small areas, but would still channel the grants within states to districts with high concentrations of such children.

The plan represents a compromise designed to appease Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who had sought to distribute all the concentration funds through the basic Chapter 1 formula, Mr. Hartle said.

Even with the change, argued Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, the concentration-el15lgrant concept rewards "large districts that have more resources" at the expense of rural Southern schools. Mr. Cochran vowed to propose an amendment on the Senate floor to rectify the situation.

Stafford Praised

Several members of the committee used last week's session to laud a retiring colleague, Senator Robert T. Stafford, and resolved to name the reauthorization bill after the Vermont Republican, who will step down next year after more than 20 years in the Congress.

The second-highest-ranking Republican on the full Labor and Human Resources panel, Senator Stafford served as chairman of its education subcommittee during the first six years of the Reagan Administration. During that crucial period, he was instrumental in limiting the Administration's success in cutting and consolidating education programs. HR 5 will be the last major education bill to show his influence.

Mr. Stafford said last week he was proud to be associated with education, "one of the most interesting things and one of the most enjoyable things I have been able to do as a Senator."

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