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House Panel Backs Bill To Reauthorize, Revamp O.E.R.I.

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WASHINGTON--Putting off for now a potentially contentious dispute over a proposed policymaking board for the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement, a House subcommittee last week approved a bill to reauthorize and revamp the O.E.R.I.

The measure, approved on a voice vote by the House Education and Labor subcommittee on select education, differs in several key respects from a bill approved last month by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Unlike the Senate bill, which would reorganize research functions under the research agency's director, the House measure would establish "institutes'' with their own governing boards.

The House measure would also establish programs to help urban schools reach the six national education goals and would create a national network of "extension agents'' to disseminate research findings to schools, among other provisions.

Perhaps its most controversial feature is the proposed policy board, which would oversee the agency. Representative Cass Ballenger, Republican of North Carolina and the ranking Republican on the panel, voted for the bill, but raised objections about several features of the proposed board that the Education Department had strongly opposed.

Specifically, Mr. Ballenger cited concerns that the authority of the board may be too broad, and he questioned a provision that would set aside spaces on the board for members of specified education organizations.

Mr. Ballenger also said that the bill does not provide sufficient funding for Bush Administration initiatives to assist states in developing curricular frameworks or to create an electronic research-dissemination system.

Representative Major R. Owens, the New York Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said he was confident the panel could reach an agreement on the bill before it comes before the full Education and Labor Committee.

"I don't think the gulf is that wide,'' he said.

Set-Aside for Rural Schools

The bill approved last week is a slightly revised version of HR 4014, a reauthorization proposal introduced in December by Mr. Owens.

If approved, the chairman said, it would "place the O.E.R.I. at the center, rather than at the margin, of education reform in this country.''

He added that it is consistent with a report issued last week by the National Academy of Sciences, which calls for a significant expansion and a major overhaul of the agency. (See story, page 1.)

But Mr. Owens also noted that the bill would phase in the changes, rather than implement them right away.

For example, he said, although the report envisions redesigning all the O.E.R.I.'s research-and-development functions into directorates, the House bill would create, at first, only four institutes to focus on the areas deemed most pressing. These are the education of at-risk students, governance, early-childhood education, and student achievement.

Mr. Owens also pointed out that the bill would establish extension agents in the 30 poorest Congressional districts. Eventually, he said, the extension system would expand to include all 435 districts.

The only amendment considered last week was offered by Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana. The amendment, which was adopted on a voice vote, would set aside 25 percent of the funding for regional educational laboratories to focus on the particular problems of rural schools.

Mr. Williams said the amendment would simply put into law current practice, which the Congress has mandated in appropriations bills for the past three years.

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