Most of Bush Plan Would Need Congressional Nod, Lawmakers Say
Washington--Virtually all the planned activities related to the Bush Administration's America 2000 education strategy must be authorized by the Congress, key House members told an appropriations panel last week, including those the Administration contends require no new legislation.
And, at another hearing, Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York, challenged the Education Department's assertion that its research branch can redirect money earmarked for a research center to the Bush plan without Congressional approval.
The hearings, a senior Democratic aide observed, "are the initial skirmish on the Administration's plan."
The Administration has requested $679.3 million for new education programs, most of them part of the strategy devised by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Mr. Alexander also added $10.7 million for the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching, which the Administration had proposed phasing out, to support related activities. (See Education Week, May 1, 1991.)
The Administration contends that the following America 2000 activities can be undertaken without Congressional approval: development of "new world standards" in core subjects and of national achievement tests; adult-literacy assessment projects; designing an educational computer network; and activities of the National Goals Panel set up by the Administration and the National Governors' Association.
But Representative William D.8Ford, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, its ranking Republican, apparently disagree.
Last week, they asked members of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending not to approve funding for the projects unless enabling legislation is enacted.
Mr. Ford said it was unlikely that either a school-reform bill or pending amendments to the Higher Education Act would be enacted in time to be included in the fiscal 1992 budget, and recommended that appropriators not set aside money for any new initiatives. Mr. Goodling said he would favor putting some money in a contingency fund for the new Administration strategy.
Chairman Ford acknowledged he was guarding his committee's turf.
"There's been a lot of heat generated by the authorizing committees," said one House appropriations aide.
A hearing held by the Subcommittee on Select Education, which Mr. Owens chairs, focused on a recent announcement by the Education Department that a new research center on dissemination and a grant competition that was to support school-restructuring projects through the Secretary's discretionary fund would be canceled.
The $990,000 earmarked for the center and $9.7 million from the discretionary fund would be used for America 2000 activities instead. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991.)
Mr. Owens argued that the department must seek Congressional approval for the new use of at least the center funds, noting that a re4port accompanying the appropriations bill for the current fiscal year states that "sufficient funds are included to fund all 18 new centers as proposed in the President's budget." The report also specifies minimum spending levels for each center and for the overall center effort.
But Bruno V. Manno, the department's acting assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said the language does not specifically require 18 centers, and that the required amount of money has been spent.
"We don't consider that an absolute directive, just a statement that sufficient funds are included," he said.
Mr. Manno said the funds would be spent on dissemination projects.
Mr. Owens also criticized the strategy's emphasis on school choice and expressed concern that research efforts would be focused on finding evidence to buttress the Administration's support for choice.