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House Passes Democratic Alternative to America 2000

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WASHINGTON--In a display of election-year partisanship, the House last month approved a Democratic alternative to President Bush's America 2000 education strategy.

HR 4323 would authorize the development of national education standards, but essentially prohibit federal involvement in national testing--an Administration priority--pending more research on the topic.

S 2, a companion bill approved by the Senate earlier this year, has testing provisions more to the Administration's liking.

But both bills reject federal funding for private-school choice plans and most other elements of the Administration's strategy, making a veto almost inevitable.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander called the House bill "even worse than worse than awful'' in a statement.

"When adults play politics with education, it is unfortunately the children who get trampled,'' said Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis.

A conference committee is expected to begin work on the bill this month. The Administration may ask Republican senators to stall a final vote for several weeks to spare Mr. Bush the discomfort of vetoing an education bill on the eve of the Presidential election.

House Republicans renewed complaints about the way the bill was handled in the Education and Labor Committee, which scuttled a version the Administration backed and added testing provisions drafted without Republican input.

Those provisions delay work on national assessment and require the development of national "school-delivery standards,'' an idea the Administration abhors. (See Education Week, May 27, 1992.)

Republicans also complained about the Rules Committee's decision to allow only two Republican amendments to be considered on the floor. The rule was approved by a 232-to-153 vote.

"This is a sad day for me because it is the first time in 18 years that we have come to the floor of the House with an elementary-secondary education bill--or perhaps any education bill--that there was not bipartisan agreement, support, and a bipartisan effort to put it together,'' said Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Education and Labor Committee.

Republican Amendments

The amendment offered by Mr. Goodling was similar to the version of the bill killed in committee.

His amendment would have restored compromise language allowing funds to be used for private school choice plans if allowed under state constitutions. The Democrats' bill dropped all mention of choice.

Mr. Goodling's amendment also would have set a $100 million spending limit for the "New American Schools'' proposed by the Administration, and would have revived the Administration's plan to let the Secretary of Education waive some federal rules to permit districts to use funds in innovative ways. HR 4323 and S 2 both would make the deregulation proposal a small demonstration program.

The amendment also contained a testing provision similar to the one in S 2, which follows the recommendations of the National Commission on Educational Standards and Testing.

Mr. Goodling's amendment was rejected by a vote of 267 to 140.

Rep. Dick Armey of Texas offered the other Republican amendment, which was rejected by a vote of 328 to 80. It contained elements of both the original Administration bill and the Democrats' approach.

Before approving HR 4323 by a vote of 279 to 124--with 32 Republicans voting in favor--the House approved by voice vote a package of amendments cleared by the Education and Labor Committee.

They would add four state legislators to the National Education Goals Panel, which would be reconfigured under both HR 4323 and S 2; allow funds to be used to reduce class sizes and for mentoring programs; require districts to consider gender equity in developing their plans; and authorize $20 million for a program based on Missouri's "Parents as Partners'' program.

The bill also would let districts use their funds for values education, let the Secretary of Education use his discretionary fund for such purposes, and create a commission to study the issue.

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