House Panel Nears Agreement on Omnibus Education Bill
Washington--Leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee were nearing agreement last week on an omnibus bill that represents a compromise between President Bush's education initiative and an expansive alternative drafted by the panel's Democrats.
The compromise was also expected to quiet a rare eruption of partisanship on a panel where relations between Democrats and Republicans have been generally cordial for years.
Aides said the remaining sticking point last week was precisely how much spending would be authorized for new programs in the bill.
The Bush package called for a total of about $400 million in new spending the first year, while the Democrats' plan, which included some of the President's proposals, carried a potential price tag of more than $5 billion per year.
Sponsors hope to introduce the compromise measure this week and to move it through the committee later this month.
The unusual partisan squabble on the committee began March 7, when a Democratic mutiny postponed consideration of the Bush bill.
Augustus F. Hawkins, the California Democrat who is chairman of the committee, had worked out revisions with the ranking Republican, Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, that made the measure more palatable to the chairman. But other Democrats balked in a closed-door caucus before the full committee meeting. When Mr. Hawkins did not strongly defend the measure, Democrats sought postponement.
Three weeks later, Mr. Hawkins introduced HR 4379, a substitute that included parts of the Bush bill, dramatically higher funding ceilings for several existing programs, and several initiatives that had been pending before the committee. On April 3, the panel's Republicans walked out of a hearing on the two bills.
Aides said talks on resolving the dispute began about a month later.
The compromise bill is to be organized into sections relating to each of the national education goals adopted in February by the President and the National Governors' Association, aides said. It will also contain two other goals added by the panel: that every student has skilled teachers and access to higher education.
To achieve the goals, the measure will propose a federal role that includes some of the Bush programs, new Democratic initiatives, and calls for increased spending on such programs as Head Start, Chapter 1, Pell Grants, and special education.
While the bill will specify how much funding is needed, aides said, it will not suggest how much should be spent in particular fiscal years, as the Democrats' bill did.
Like HR 4379, the new bill is to include slimmed-down versions of Bush proposals for a "merit schools" program, aid to historically black colleges, science scholarships, and awards for exemplary teachers, while excluding a magnet-schools program not tied to desegregation.
A Republican aide noted, however, that a program of grants to states for alternative teacher-certification programs, which was not in HR 4379, is to be included in the compromise measure.
Teacher Training, Literacy
The compromise was also expected to include:
Provisions from Mr. Hawkins's $750-million teacher-training bill, HR 4130, including a loan-forgiveness program for prospective teachers and programs to aid teacher training and recruitment of minority teachers.
Sections of HR 3123, a wide-ranging literacy bill, including a literacy clearinghouse, an interagency coordinating council, and increases in the funding ceilings of the Adult Education Act and Even Start, which is designed to reach disadvantaged preschoolers and their parents.
Provisions that would increase student-aid awards by excluding the value of a family's home, farm, or small business from aid calculations.
Authorization for an education summit that could be held by the Congress and the governors even if the Administration declines to cooperate. Funds were appropriated for a summit in 1985, but the Reagan Administration never held it.
Aides said a provision of the Democrats' bill that would authorize grants to regional science and mathematics consortia is to be considered separately. The idea originated in the Senate, where it is included in a pending mathematics- and science-education bill.
Also absent will be a provision to authorize federal funds for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which was included in the version of Bush's package approved by the Senate Feb. 7. The House committee is deeply divided on that issue, and aides said members have decided to resolve it in an eventual House-Senate conference.
The Senate has also passed a separate literacy bill, and its education subcommittee marked up a teacher-training initiative last week.