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House Passes Compromise O.E.R.I. Reauthorization

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WASHINGTON--Beating a tactical retreat to advance the legislation, the House last week adopted and sent to the Senate a compromise measure to reauthorize the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement.

Like an earlier version of the bill, the measure, passed by a voice vote, would expand and reorganize the agency into five institutes focusing on specific educational issues; create an "extension system'' to disseminate research to school districts; and form a policymaking board to oversee the agency.

But in a last-minute change aimed at addressing objections from the Bush Administration, members of a House subcommittee agreed to cut back some of the powers of the proposed board, including its authority to approve large contract solicitations and standards for research activities. They also deleted a provision that would have given education associations the power to name members of the board.

In addition, the House panel members added several provisions from a Senate version of the bill, which would create an office of technology within the agency, an international educational-exchange program, and a public-private computer-education program. And it would expand the state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Hope for Compromise?

Rep. Major R. Owens, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Select Education Subcommittee, said that the changes would weaken the bill, but that they were necessary to insure passage.

"I am concerned that, given the short time remaining in the session, it is the only way we can hope to assure that reauthorization is completed this year,'' he said.

Mr. Owens added that he hoped the Senate would pass the House version without amendment. He warned that any additional changes would kill the bill.

But Diane S. Ravitch, the assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, urged the Senate to work out an agreement with the House.

"They are making good progress,'' she said of the House panel. "My preference would be to get a compromise between the House and Senate bills.''

As of late last week, the Senate had not taken action on the measure.

'No Further Concessions'

Although committees in both chambers completed action on O.E.R.I. bills months ago, the legislation has stalled as the House and Senate took up the higher-education reauthorization and school-reform bills.

But researchers have grown concerned that, without a reauthorization, projects might get put on hold after Sept. 30, when the agency's authority expires. Even if Congress extends the authorization beyond that date, only those projects that have already been authorized, such as research centers and laboratories, could continue to operate.

Ms. Ravitch said that she may have to cancel contracts for research projects, including an evaluation of school reform, after the fiscal year ends.

Mr. Owens said that the reauthorization bill would end such uncertainty by creating the policymaking board to set an agenda for the agency.

"The board's key function,'' he said, "is to develop a comprehensive research-priorities plan to end the incoherent, 'flavor of the month' approach to research which has limited O.E.R.I.'s effectiveness for so long.''

He said that the compromise bill, which would reduce the size of the board from 20 to 18 members and shift authority to the assistant secretary, represents "substantial concessions which have already significantly eroded the authority of the board.''

But, he warned, "No further concessions will be made on this point.''

Mr. Owens also said that the institute structure would enhance the agency's coherence by focusing its activities on key problems. Under the bill, beginning in fiscal 1994, the O.E.R.I.'s research functions would be reorganized into institutes on student achievement, at-risk students, governance, early-childhood education, and postsecondary education.

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