Education Bills Set for Scrutiny as Lawmakers Return
Washington--As lawmakers get back to business this week in the second session of the 101st Congress, several education-related bills, including President Bush's education package, are among those slated for early action.
The President has castigated the Democratic Congressional leadership for failing to enact S 695, which the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved in July in significantly altered form.
But Senate aides say the measure has been stalled by disagreements among Republicans over how to respond to a provision, added by the committee, that would provide federal funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The Administration opposes the funding, as do some lawmakers, mostly Republicans.
Aides said Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, will propose an amendment dropping the section, while one to be offered by Senator Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the education subcommittee, would require an open competition for the funds instead of earmarking them for the board.
The board is seeking federal money to help it continue its national effort to certify highly skilled teachers.
Meanwhile, the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee plans to consider a bill authorizing funds for the board that is similar to the Senate version. Panel members hope to persuade senators to agree to a separate bill, despite the chance that Mr. Bush would veto it.
As for Mr. Bush's initiatives, their fate in the House is still uncertain.
Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, has sharply criticized the proposals, but he has also hinted that he might support a modified version.
Also scheduled for action next month is legislation related to:
Youth Service. The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved a $330-million package including school-based programs in August, and the measure has been stalled since.
The bill has been held up because its Democratic sponsors want Republican support, but Republicans are reluctant to sign on before President Bush unveils his own long-awaited service legislation. But aides said last week that the senators are tired of waiting for the Administration's proposal and plan to bring S 1430 to the floor soon.
The Administration may, in fact, be losing its chance to have a major influence on the legislation, Congressional observers said last week.
A House Education and Labor Committee aide said that Chairman Hawkins would prefer to wait for a bipartisan consensus, but that he may move without it if the Senate does. The aide said committee Democrats plan this month to introduce their own bill--similar to S 1430, but lower in cost.
Vocational-Education Reauthorization. The Senate's bill is headed for the floor, where aides said its funding formula--particularly a requirement that at least 65 percent of a state's funds be used for high-school programs--is likely to be disputed, despite unanimous approval at the committee level.
S 1109, like its House counterpart, HR 7, would eliminate most set-asides for special populations in favor of more local flexibility.
House and Senate aides agreed last week that the bill's different funding formulas would be the primary issue when the bill goes to conference.
Special-Education Reauthorization. The Senate passed a bill in November, with only minor changes, to reauthorize discretionary programs under the Education of the Handicapped Act.
An aide to Representative Major R. Owens, the New York Democrat who serves as chairman of theHouse Select Education Subcommittee, said staff members are putting the finishing touches on a compromise between Mr. Owens's proposal and one introduced by Representative Steve Bartlett of Texas, the panel's ranking Republican.
The aide said that another hearing is planned next month, and that the bill should move quickly after that.
Literacy. Senate aides predicted easy approval for S 1310, which would increase the funding ceilings for a variety of literacy programs, and create a council to coordinate federal literacy efforts.
A House aide said that the House Education and Labor Committee plans to act on a similar bill this year, but that Mr. Hawkins wants first to resolve the ongoing debate on child-care legislation.
As they were a year ago, lawmakers are salving wounds inflicted in fighting over child-care proposals that died late in the last session--and promising to clear a bill in the upcoming one.
The most immediate hurdle is an increasingly bitter dispute between two House committees.
Education and Labor has crafted a package that would expand Head Start and create a school-based program, as well as grants to help parents pay for child care that are similar to the centerpiece of S 5, which the Senate passed last year. Members of the Ways and Means Committee want to substitute a combination of tax credits and increases in the Title XX social-services block grant for the grant program.
The House leadership asked the panels to meet with their Senate counterparts and include both approaches in the final conference agreement, leaving the issue to be resolved in floor votes, but Ways and Means members refused.
Because the competing packages were passed as part of a budget bill that was later enacted without them, the House must now approve another bill before a conference can occur.
House aides said that interested parties began meeting last week, but that they had not decided how to proceed.
Even if the House were to send a bill to conference, lawmakers would still have to confront the thorny issue of aid to church-based child-care providers, which would be permitted under S 5.
Teacher, Science Bills
Aides said the top priority for leaders of the Senate education panel is a pair of bills containing an array of programs to improve the training, status, and supply of teachers.
Mr. Hawkins and Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on Education4and Labor, have praised the bill, and its legislative outlook is good. However, the Administration is expected to oppose many of its provisions.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of Labor and Human Resources, also plans to introduce early in the session a comprehensive proposal to aid science and mathematics education, and several bills are already pending on that topic.
The House science committee began hearings last year on HR 3122, which would expand education programs supported by the National Science Foundation, and also originated HR 996, which passed the House in September. It would create three scholarship programs: a general one similar to a proposal in Mr. Bush's package, one for prospective teachers that is echoed in one of the Senate teacher bills, and one for students aiming at careers in fields with a shortage of scientists.
The bills could reopen an old jurisdictional dispute centering on the nsf, which is within the science panel's purview. Education-panel members in both chambers, as well as the Administration, want the Education Department to administer scholarship programs, as it would under both pending Senate bills.
Another lawmaker interested in the topic is Senator John Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, who has introduced two bills. One would create an interagency council to coordinate science-education efforts.
The other would authorize consortia to create and disseminate science curricula, a national clearinghouse, and several small education programs to be administered by the n.s.f.
The Congress is expected to take up two more important reauthorizations this year: that of Head Start, which expires in 1990, and the ed's research operations. Those programs are not due for renewal until next year, but Mr. Owens, whose subcommittee has jurisdiction in the House, plans to begin early.
Some aides predicted last week that other proposals will be offered after next month's release of national education goals drafted by the Administration and the National Governors' Association.
One idea backed at their education summit last September, that of giving school districts more flexibility in the use of federal funds, is already under consideration in the House, and its sponsor said at least one more hearing is planned in February or March. Mr. Hawkins has expressed a willingness to work on the bill, but remains skeptical.
The final item on the agenda is the annual battle to enact a federal budget. Congressional aides who claim knowledge of the Administration's proposal say it will closely resemble last year's: a small overall increase for education, concentrated in such programs as Chapter 1 and Head Start; a plea to provide funding for the Presidential proposals; a request for more research funding; and yet another attempt to eliminate programs that the Reagan Administration tried to kill for eight years.
Most observers expect a particularly difficult struggle this year, citing Mr. Bush's opposition to new taxes, ever-tighter deficit-reduction targets, and political ill will left by last year's fight that may preclude a budget summit between the Administration and Congressional leaders.