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Conference on Omnibus Bill Off to Slow Start

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WASHINGTON--House and Senate conferees left most outstanding issues unresolved last week as they met for the first time on the pending education reauthorization bill.

On one key issue, House panelists told their Senate counterparts that appropriators would only fund Chapter 1 concentration grants under the formula passed by the House.

House conferees also expressed opposition to Senate language giving states "program improvement'' authority over Chapter 1 programs and extending the magnet-schools program to districts not implementing desegregation orders.

And, in the meeting's most rancorous dispute, Representative William F. Goodling of Pennsylvania sharply criticized Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts for going outside regular processes to win funding for certain proposals.

Mr. Goodling vowed that he would not support a child-development program proposed by Mr. Kennedy unless a related, House-backed initiative under Chapter 1 is funded first.

The conferees ratified agreements hammered out by aides that cover many of the differences between the two versions of the bill, HR 5 and S 373. The legislation would extend major education programs through 1993 and create new ones.

But they resolved only one outstanding dispute, deciding to ask the General Accounting Office to study the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1985 decision in Aguilar v. Felton, which imposed restrictions on the delivery of Chapter 1 services to religious-school pupils. That request, however, will be left out of the bill.

After hearing yet another item "put to one side,'' Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California, remarked that "the one side is going to be overloaded.''

Kennedy Plan Criticized

Mr. Goodling's criticism of Mr. Kennedy centered on the Massachusetts senator's proposal to fund early-intervention projects providing a variety of social services to young children and their parents. The $25-million program, which would be funded through Head Start, was added to S 373 on the Senate floor.

"Some of us go through the proper process of authorization,'' Mr. Goodling said, noting that no hearings had been held on Mr. Kennedy's proposal.
He added that the initiative could be more appropriately considered with pending child-care legislation.

Referring to the senator's success in getting funding for his "Star Schools'' plan and other as-yet-unauthorized programs into the 1988 budget, Mr. Goodling said he feared that appropriators strapped for money might fund the Kennedy initiative instead of "Even Start.'' That Hawkins-Goodling proposal is included in both HR 5 and S 373.

Even Start would extend the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program to disadvantaged preschoolers and their parents.

Mr. Goodling demanded legislative language that would prevent funding of Mr. Kennedy's program unless Even Start received funding.

Concentration Grants

Mr. Kennedy did not respond directly to Mr. Goodling's remarks, but suggested that they meet informally to work out a solution.

The likely actions of appropriators also figured in the discussion of Chapter 1 concentration grants, which would aid school districts with large proportions of students living in poverty.

House conferees said leaders of their chamber's Appropriations Committee had agreed to fund the grants under the HR 5 formula, which would grant eligibility to counties where more than 6,500 students are poor or where such students make up more than 15 percent of the school population.

Appropriators have refused to fund concentration grants in the past because of concerns that proposed formulas favored urban areas, House conferees said.

The Senate formula would be unacceptable to the House Appropriations panel on those grounds, they said.

Under the Senate version, half the concentration-grant allocation would go to counties with at least 5,000 students, or 20 percent of the student population, living in poverty. It would award the other half through the regular Chapter 1 formula, which generally favors cities.

Staff Agreements Backed

Other differences on Chapter 1 funding were resolved by staff members, and won approval from the committee. Among the agreements:

  • A Senate proposal to phase out a count of welfare recipients as a distribution factor was omitted.
  • The trigger for concentration-grant funding was set at an appropriation of $3.9 billion.
  • Small states were guaranteed a minimum of one-quarter of 1 percent of all Chapter 1 appropriations.
  • A $250-million dropout-prevention and basic-skills program in HR 5 was retained as part of Chapter 1.
  • A $10-million rural-education initiative approved by the Senate was added to Chapter 1.

Staff-negotiated agreements on the Chapter 2 block-grant program included provisions that:

  • Target such funds to programs for "at risk'' or gifted and talented students; purchases of instructional materials; "innovative'' schoolwide improvements; personnel training; efforts to enhance "personal excellence,'' such as arts or fitness programs; early-childhood community education; and suicide prevention.
  • Earmark 20 percent of state Chapter 2 grants for "effective schools'' projects, a separate program in S 373.
  • Codify the Education Department's school-recognition program under the Secretary's Chapter 2 discretionary fund; add an office of health education as a permitted use of the fund; and forbid use of a "program significance'' panel to review programs for the National Diffusion Network.

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