Accord Reached on Key Reauthorization Items
WASHINGTON--The omnibus reauthorization bill completed last week by a House-Senate conference panel preserves controversial provisions requiring school districts to work with state officials to improve failing Chapter 1 programs, but limits the intervention power available to states.
The "program improvement'' provisions, which some educators feared could lead to state takeovers of schools, were among the last issues to be resolved by the conference committee. Sponsors of the omnibus bill, HR 5, plan to seek final approval by the House and Senate after the Easter recess.
Other key compromises reached last week would limit the proposed expansion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and adopt the formula for Chapter 1 concentration grants considered more favorable to rural areas.
Program-improvement requirements for the compensatory-education program had emerged as the most important conference issue for several education groups.
At stake was language in the Senate proposal that would have allowed state agencies to take "appropriate corrective action'' when schools had "substantially failed'' over two years to improve the achievement of Chapter 1 students.
Organizations representing teachers, administrators, and school boards argued that this would allow almost unlimited intrusion by state agencies into local affairs. But the Council of Chief State School Officers and civil-rights groups said states must have intervention power if inadequate programs are to improve.
The compromise worked out last week requires school districts to work with state agencies on plans to improve failing programs and requires states to provide technical assistance.
But the provision also specifies that no plan can be implemented without district approval. And it expressly states that the law does not "give the state any authority concerning the educational program of a local educational agency that does not otherwise exist under state law.''
The compromise also allots to states 0.25 percent of Chapter 1 funds for program-improvement activities through 1991, and twice that percentage for each succeeding year. The Senate bill had set aside double those levels for program improvement.
On the other Chapter 1 issue, Senate conferees agreed to the House formula for concentration grants, funds designed to flow to districts with especially dense concentrations of poor students.
House conferees repeatedly argued that appropriators would refuse to fund the Senate formula, which would generally have favored urban districts.
But the agreement came at the very end of last week's meeting, after House conferees said acquiescence on this point was a prerequisite for their acceptance of a $4 million program for the disabled specifically targeted for Utah--the home state of Orrin G. Hatch, ranking Republican on the Senate education panel.
Separate Statistics Center
Controversy over NAEP, an annual national testing program known as "the nation's report card,'' was also resolved with a compromise.
Under the conference agreement, NAEP would not immediately expand its data collection to allow state-by-state comparisons, as Senate conferees proposed, but would instead perform on an experimental basis for several years state-specific assessments of mathematics and reading skills at specific grade levels.
A proposal to expand the subject areas assessed was dropped, but a one-year experiment testing students' knowledge of history and geography was included.
The agreement would also upgrade the status of the Education Department's Center for Education Statistics from a section within the office of educational research and improvement to a separate branch. That had been a proposal in the House bill.
The new office would be headed by a Presidentially appointed commissioner, and would have its own legislative authorization and its own line-item in the department's budget. The current C.E.S. director, Emerson J. Elliott, would be guaranteed the new position for four years.
Other conference agreements would:
- Provide stopgap funding to each of two universities fighting over a 5-year, $30-million grant to run the Education Department's National Center for Vocational Research.
The department awarded the grant to a consortium headed by the University of California at Berkeley. But Ohio State University, which has run the center for 10 years, successfully challenged the award process in federal court.
Although department officials plan an appeal, HR 5 would provide each center with $2 million to fund activities through December. Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, sought a provision designating Ohio State as the interim center.
- Adopt a proposal by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, for a $25-million program to fund child-development centers providing a variety of social services to disadvantaged preschool-age children and their parents.
The agreement provides that the program will not be funded unless the Head Start program first receives 104-percent funding increases for two years.
At the conferees' last meeting, Representative William F. Goodling, Democrat of Pennsylvania, had demanded that funding for Mr. Kennedy's plan be contingent on funding for Even Start, a new program that would aid educational initiatives for preschoolers and parents through Chapter 1.
- Increase the funding ceiling for the magnet-schools program from $75 million to $165 million, and allow school districts not under a desegregation order to participate only in a sharply limited, separate program.
Senate conferees had pushed for a new initiative under the magnet-schools program to aid such districts. Their House counterparts, however, argued that the new funding could be used to support segregated schools and that any additional money should go to schools that are now eligible but unfunded.
They maintained that the magnet-schools program should remain true to its original purpose--to aid schools burdened by federal court orders.
House conferees accepted the Senate proposal as an entirely separate, $35-million program, which can be funded only if the full $165 million is appropriated for the original magnet-schools program.
The agreement also limits eligibility to districts whose enrollments are at least 65 percent minority; requires that resulting magnet schools be at least 50 percent minority; and mandates that eligible plans must foster desegregation.
An agreement ratified by conferees in a previous meeting also requires that the Education Department give districts that have not received magnet-schools grants priority for funds above the current $75-million appropriation. The provision was prompted by widespread complaints from districts turned down in last year's competition.