Omnibus Education Bill Wins Senate Panel's Backing
Washington--A Senate committee last week approved a $472-million omnibus education bill over objections from the panel's Republicans, who predicted the bill would fail at the hands of the full Senate or President Bush.
The Labor and Human Resources Committee's action came just one day before the President and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander unveiled a package of education initiatives designed to place education at the forefront of Mr. Bush's domestic-policy agenda. (See story on page 1.)
On a 10-to-7 party-line vote, the committee sent to the full Senate the "strengthening education for American families act," or S 2, which would "codify" the national education goals, add goals on teacher training and access to higher education, and authorize $2 million for a National Council on Educational Goals and $153 million for programs to combat illiteracy.
Those components were contained in an omnibus measure that failed last year.
The bill would also authorize $312 million in new spending on a mixture of existing and new programs. The bill would:
Create a grant program under the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching, authorized at $25 million per year, that would aid school districts in implementing school-based-management programs that include on-site decisionmaking teams.
Establish a program, authorized at $100 million, that would fund efforts by districts or consortia to develop "model schools." Only schools serving significant numbers of disadvantaged children would be eligible.
Set the authorization for the Eisenhower mathematics and science program at $300 million for fiscal 1992. In 1988, the Congress autho4rized $250 million for fiscal 1989 and unspecified amounts for later years. The program received $202 million in the current fiscal year.
Authorize $50 million per year for the Star Schools technology program. Current law authorized a total of $100 million from 1987 through 1992.
Create a new program, authorized at $50 million in 1992, to aid the development of curricula using the latest technology.
Those provisions were not included in the bill when it was introduced Jan. 14 by its sponsor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Democrat from Massachusetts who is chairman of the committee. At that time, Senator George J. Mitchell, the majority leader, heralded the bill as a priority of the party.
Republicans complained that they received the new language just one day before the panel considered the measure. They also accused the Democrats of trying to upstage Mr. Bush on the eve of his education announcement, and said S 2 has little chance of receiving White House backing.
The Republicans unsuccessfully tried to gut the bill with an amendment by Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Republican of Kansas, that would have sent forth only the popular literacy initiatives. A literacy bill passed the Senate last year by a vote of 99 to 0, but was later incorporated into the failed omnibus bill.
"It seems to me that by reporting this legislation out of committee at this time, we will slow down the progress of the literacy bill while doing virtually nothing to create a new legislative program in education," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee's ranking Republican.
Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, was the chief sponsor of last year's literacy measure. While voting against Ms. Kassebaum's amendment, he said he would offer the literacy provisions as a separate bill if S 2 seemed likely to fail.
A similar measure, HR 751, already has passed the House. An aide to Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said he has no intention of introducing an omnibus bill.
Mr. Hatch and other Republicans said they objected in particular to the cost of the bill and the goals-council provisions, which they said would duplicate a monitoring panel set up by the Administration and the National Governors' Association. (See related story on page 1.)
Democrats argued that the new goals council would allow education experts, rather than governors and Administration officials, to judge the nation's progress on school reform.
The existing panel also includes members of the Congress as nonvoting members, and the Administration and the governors have resisted broadening the panel's membership further.
An aide to Mr. Kennedy said he had been discussing the new proposals for several weeks with Mr. Mitchell and Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the Education, Arts,el10land Humanities Subcommittee.
The aide also noted that the committee rescheduled its markup of the bill twice, most recently at Mr. Alexander's request. But the Secretary has refused to comment on the bill, the aide said.
"Instead of working on S 2," Mr. Kennedy said, "they've been down there fashioning proposals of their own without telling us, while we've been putting this off for the Secretary."
An Education Department spokesman said Mr. Alexander is looking forward to studying the new provisions in S 2 and developing an education bill with the committee.
Mr. Kennedy welcomed the Bush Administration's initiatives and said he hoped some of the President's education agenda could be incorporated into S 2.
"Obviously there is competition between the Administration and the Congress in seeing who has the best ideas for education reform," Mr. Kennedy said. "That competition is healthy and all to the good, because the end result is better schools and a stronger America."
But committee members exchanged charges of partisanship and accused each other of using education to score political points.
Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, called the markup a "sharply divided partisan exercise. ... The Republicans have basically been shut out of the process, and that's just a fact."
Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, said President Bush is the one "attempting to politicize the issue."
"They're asking us to withhold our proposal so they can come in with their big bang," he said.
"Let's work together and not politicize the issue," Mr. Metzenbaum added. "Or if we do politicize it, let's see who can move it more."