Sharply Divided House Panel Amends 'Goals 2000'
WASHINGTON--The House Education and Labor Committee last month approved the Clinton Administration's education-reform bill, but only after adding amendments the Administration opposes.
The panel approved HR 1804, its version of the "goals 2000: educate America act,'' by a 28-to-15, party-line vote.
The June 23 session featured some unusually acrimonious and partisan debate, in which Republicans often sided with the Administration against Democratic efforts to alter the National Education Goals Panel and strengthen "opportunity to learn'' standards, which are to measure the services schools provide.
The legislation would formally authorize the goals panel, establish a federal role in creating a national system of standards and assessments, and create a grant program to support state and local reform plans. As part of that process, states would adopt their own performance and opportunity standards, which they could submit for certification by the goals panel and a new National Education Standards and Improvement Council that would develop the national standards.
At one point, the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Bill Goodling, R. Pa., let loose with an uncharacteristic, five-minute outburst, during which he pounded his fist on the dais repeatedly.
Mr. Goodling lashed out at the Democrats, and especially Rep. John F. Reed, D-R.I., over Mr. Reed's amendment to require states to set a timetable for meeting the opportunity standards.
The amendment replaced a provision, adopted at the subcommittee level in May, that would have required states to commit to specific remedial action when districts failed to meet the standards.
"We heard a nice speech but we didn't send one damn penny to any school districts,'' Mr. Goodling said to Mr. Reed.
An Unusual Outburst
His voice rising, Mr. Goodling questioned the fairness of asking states to establish opportunity standards many schools will be unable to meet, without providing any money to improve those schools.
"You might as well get this one over with, put your amendments en bloc, and get them out of here because we're not doing one thing to reform education,'' he said.
The Reed amendment was passed on a party-line vote of 28 to 15.
Michael Cohen, a counselor to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said the new language is "a substantial improvement'' over Mr. Reed's original language, but he refused to say whether the Administration had accepted it.
"The question is: Can we get agreement on a set of provisions that the committee can live with, that can get the support of the Congress, and that we can live with?'' Mr. Cohen said. "We think the thing to keep our eye on is what happens at the end of the process and not what happens every step of the way.''
The committee's Democrats also defied the Administration by approving amendments altering the authority and composition of the goals panel and tinkering with the national education goals.
One of the amendments, which were approved on party-line voice votes, would empower the goals panel to comment on, rather than approve or reject, standards proposed by NESIC. Another would allow the President to appoint the Secretary of Education as an ex officio member of the goals panel if the Secretary is not among the two Presidential appointees. This would allow the President to appoint more members of the panel, a move that would disrupt its bipartisan balance.
Another amendment would have NESIC members appointed by Congressional leaders and the goals panel, as well as by the President, while Mr. Clinton's orginial bill called for all council appointments to be made by the President.
The panel also left intact an amendment, adopted in subcommittee, that would add a teacher training goal to the national education goals.
The Administration has opposed any changes to the goals, the goals panel, or NESIC.
"We felt we had that worked out in the bill we sent up, and we feel strongly about that,'' Mr. Cohen said.
Skills Board Membership
Another standing partisan dispute continued over the composition of the proposed National Skills Standards Board, which would endorse national occupational standards.
Republicans strongly favor a board with a business majority, which they argue would insure a "buy in'' from the people who would have to implement the standards. But Democrats, traditionally more sympathetic to labor interests, insisted that the board be broad based and that Congress have a role in naming its members.
A Goodling amendment that would have created a business-majority board failed on a party-line voice vote, as did an amendment by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., that called for the President to appoint four representatives from business and four from education to join the Secretaries of Labor, Education, and Commerce, and the NESIC chairman on the skills board. Mr. Gunderson's amendment would also have required that union and non-union workers sit on the board, that the first chairman of the board come from business, and that the board cease to exist after five years.
The committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., to exempt certain trades that operate under apprenticeship standards from using the board's skill standards.
Mr. Kildee said about 216 of 10,000 trades could opt out under the amendment, but that they could voluntarily choose to participate in a standards-setting process.
The amendment passed by the slimmest of margins--22 to 21--as five
Democrats joined Republicans to vote against it.