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Bush Readies Threat To Veto Omnibus Education Measure

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Washington--The Bush Administration late last week was preparing a letter to potential conferees on the omnibus education bill threatening a Presidential veto of the measure.

The possibility of a veto also added a new element of uncertainty to the fate of related Senate bills.

House and Senate Democratic aides charged last week that Republican senators were putting "holds"--an informal procedure that allows a member to delay floor action on a measure--on the teacher-training bill, S 1676, to prevent it from reaching the floor, going to conference with other education legislation, and landing on Mr. Bush's desk.

"They want to kill the bill so the President won't have to veto it,'' said one aide. A Republican aide said "it's conceivable" the Administration has such a strategy, although it has not requested senators to stall the legislation.

Senate leaders had hoped to wrap three education measures--S 695, the Senate-approved version of education legislation proposed by the President; S 1310, the National Literacy Act, which has also been approved by the Senate; and S 1676--into one bill so it could be considered alongside the comprehensive House-passed bill, HR 5115. If they cannot do so, aides said, a House-Senate conference will consider only HR 5115 and S 695.

HR 5115 includes some of President Bush's education initiatives, proposed teacher-training and literacy programs, and a controversial plan to free some school districts from federal regulation in exchange for performance agreements. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1990.)

Conferencing HR 5115 with just S 695 would doom many teacher-training proposals included only in S 1676, such as a mid-career fellowship program, national teacher academies, and demonstration grants for reducing class size or experimenting with school restructuring. (See Education Week, June 20, 1990.)

Senator Gordon J. Humphrey, Republican of New Hampshire, is the latest lawmaker to put a hold on S 1676. An aide to Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, said he had recently agreed to remove his hold from the bill in exchange for language in provisions that would authorize funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Mr. Helms, who tried to strike those provisions in an earlier floor debate, asked that the board's purview be limited to public schools.

Administration Objections

The Administration's letter, meanwhile, details extensive objections to the current legislation. Officials oppose the teaching-standards board, a key provision of S 695, and said the funding levels of the bills should be kept below $700 million.

The officials also urged that a measure providing for forgiveness of student loans for teachers be removed, along with some statements of education policy.

The letter also indicated that the National Institute for Literacy should be included in the Education Department and not operate as an independent body.

In addition, officials said they would seek a veto if legislation to create a panel to monitor progress toward national education goals is added or if all Mr. Bush's original proposals are not included--particularly a provision allowing magnet-school grants to go to districts that were not under court-ordered desegregation plans.

The bill establishing a monitoring panel on goals progress, S 3095, was approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee on Sept. 26. It is expected to go to the floor separately.

Sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, the measure has been criticized by Administration officials, who warn that the panel could compete with or replace a monitoring panel established by the Administration and the National Governors' Association.

House and Senate aides said lawmakers were committed to passing an education bill before the close of the session sometime this month.

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