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Negotiations on Skills Board in 'Goals 2000' Bill Continue

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WASHINGTON--Working to accommodate objections that emanated from a variety of sources and spanned the ideological spectrum, Administration and Congressional education-committee leaders continued their negotiations last week on the Clinton Administration's education-reform bill.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is tentatively scheduled to consider the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' this week, though it could cancel that meeting if enough concerns were raised at a May 14 hearing on provisions to create a national board to help set occupational-skills standards.

The House Education and Labor Committee last week postponed a markup that had been scheduled for this week in favor of a hearing on the skills standards and more talks.

"It's probably impossible for the Administration to totally satisfy everyone,'' a Democratic House aide said last week. "But they only have to satisfy enough people to get the votes they need.''

Republicans and business leaders fear the bill would give the federal government too big a role in setting skills standards, and civil-rights groups fear the standards could work against minorities and women. Lawmakers from both parties say the legislation must be more specific about what the board would do, how the standards would be developed, and how they would be used. (See Education Week, May 12, 1993.)

The Administration has advocated the creation of the skills-standards board as crucial to its efforts to improve the workforce and to shape school-to-work programs.

Concerning the education sections of the bill, governors and Congressional Republicans fear the measure is too prescriptive and would create too great a federal role in education; some Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to make the bill even more prescriptive. Some House Democrats are also seeking changes in the composition and authority of the National Education Goals Panel.

In addition to creating the skills-standards board, the bill would formally authorize the goals panel, establish a federal role in developing national education standards and assessments, and create a grant program to support state and local reform. States would develop their own standards for curriculum content, student performance, and school services, which could be submitted for certification by a new National Educational Standards and Improvement Council.

'Figure Out What This Is'

After a somewhat contentious session and many amendments, the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education approved the goals 2000 bill on May 6 on a party-line vote. But the panel deferred all discussion of title IV, which concerns the skills board.

That section was the topic of discussion at a series of staff meetings last week that were scheduled to continue into this week, and it remained a possibility that the section would be stripped from the bill.

A tentative agreement had been reached with the civil-rights community over language to insure that title IV does not affect laws and protections barring employment discrimination against women and minorities. But other civil-rights issues, such as how the standards would apply to education institutions, remained to be resolved.

Congressional aides said last week that lawmakers are likely to raise a variety of other concerns about title IV, such as the composition of the board itself, but that they had not yet taken firm positions.

"Everyone has been trying to figure out what this is, why it's in this bill, and to get the Department of Labor to state more clearly what it is they want to achieve,'' said John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel to the House committee.

"Everything is still up in the air,'' one Republican aide said.

The education panels were also striving last week to resolve issues related to other sections of the bill.

'Killer Amendments'

Republicans, governors, and the Administration were particularly dismayed at some amendments House Democrats added at the subcommittee markup. The provisions would require states to implement standards for school services--known as "opportunity to learn'' standards--before their assessments could be certified, specify that national opportunity standards address school facilities, and require states to establish a policy for "corrective action'' when schools do not meet the opportunity standards.

Congressional sources said some liberal Democrats on the Senate committee plan to offer similar amendments when they mark up the bill this week, although they may not have as much support as in the House. Senate Republicans also plan to offer amendments to make the requirements for state and local reform plans less prescriptive.

"Some amendments were almost killer amendments,'' said Michael Cohen, a consultant to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "There are discussions under way to try to reach a compromise that can satisfy both those who offered the amendments and Republican supporters whose support is important for the bill's success.''

Mr. Cohen said the Administration would not oppose all the proposals to strengthen opportunity-to-learn standards, but "there's a problem with the level of specificity they seem to be calling for.''

The National Governors' Association has also expressed concern about the bill's prescriptiveness. In a letter to Mr. Riley, the group said some governors believe it is "inappropriate'' for the standards and improvement council to certify state opportunity and curriculum standards.

The letter, which was sent before the House subcommittee markup, also expressed broader concerns about the opportunity standards, and said many governors oppose a provision requiring states to establish a strategy to insure that all schools meet state opportunity standards.

In a separate letter, Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, the N.G.A.'s vice chairman and an original member of the goals panel, expressed even stronger reservations.

"The Administration's reform bill, as revised at the insistence of House Democrats, comes dangerously close to derailing our hard-won emphasis on student achievement,'' the Republican Governor wrote, and to "federalization of what has been, until now, a pact that recognized and respected the pre-eminent role of states in educational reform.''

Mr. Cohen said the Administration would also oppose attempts to alter the goals panel, and Patty Sullivan, a senior policy analyst at the N.G.A., said the governors would probably agree.

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