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Agreement on E.D.'s Reform Measure Clears Way for House Action

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WASHINGTON--Congressional and Administration officials have reached tentative agreement on a package of amendments to President Clinton's education-reform bill that would pave the way for floor consideration in the House.

The agreement was reached last week after many days of negotiations between Education Department officials and House Democrats. At the subcommittee and committee levels, the Democrats had attached amendments that, in the words of one Congressional aide, put the bill into "the zone of unacceptability'' for the Administration.

The amendment package is under review at the White House. Approval there would mean that floor consideration for HR 1804, the "goals 2000: educate America act,'' is possible soon.

But a crush of appropriations bills has captured the attention of lawmakers over the past couple of weeks and will continue to do so at least until the onset of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

The slow pace of the appropriations legislation in both the Senate and the House could push floor consideration of HR 1804 and its Senate version, S 1150, to mid- or late October. Consideration could come even later if such legislation as the President's health-care-reform package or ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement gets in the way.

Senate Bill Ready

S 1150 is less contentious and has been ready for floor consideration for some time. Aides say it is scheduled to go to the floor as soon as the appropriations bills are completed.

An aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, said S 1150 continues to have bipartisan support.

In addition, an aide to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking member on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, noted that issues surrounding the negotiations between House Democrats and the Administration "seem to have seeped into our bill in people's minds and that's not the case at all.''

"We want to send out a 'Dear Colleague' letter, but we don't want to do it one month before the bill goes to the floor,'' the aide said.

The reform legislation would codify the national goals and formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel, establish a federal role in creating a national system of standards and assessments, and create a grant program to foster state and local reform efforts.

States would develop and adopt their own content, performance, and opportunity standards, which they could voluntarily submit for certification by the goals panel and a new National Education Standards and Improvement Council that would develop the national standards.

Time To Negotiate

The busy September bought the Administration some time to negotiate with a handful of House Democrats who had marshaled support for amendments to the President's original bill.

Congressional and Administration sources said the amendment package will include language specifying that "opportunity to learn'' standards, which set forth the conditions needed in a school to provide children with a quality education, should not be established by states until voluntary content and performance standards are developed.

The package will also make clear that states that do not choose to participate in goals 2000 or submit their standards to be certified by a national board will not lose eligibility to receive funds from other federal education programs.

The Administration had objected to an earlier version of the language designed to strengthen the opportunity standards. (See Education Week, July 14 and Aug. 4, 1993.)

Committee Democrats also raised the Administration's concern by amending the original bill to alter the authority and composition of the National Education Goals Panel and add an additional goal on teacher training.

Teacher Training Goal

While all of the details on the compromise over the role and size of the goals panel were not immediately available, one official called it "a compromise that people are comfortable with.''

One provision would allow the Secretary of Education to be the third, but non-voting, member of the goals panel chosen by the President. Originally, the Administration called for only two Presidential appointments to the panel. The Education and Labor Committee, however, voted to allow the President to appoint the Secretary as an ex officio member if the Secretary is not among the two Presidential appointees.

The Administration has decided not to challenge the imposition of the teacher training goal before the bill goes to the floor, but hopes to eliminate it in conference.

However, an aide to Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the ranking member on the House panel, said that if a member of the Senate seeks to add that goal on the floor, other senators would be reluctant to vote against it.

"It would get approved 99 to 1. It's sort of a feel-good thing,'' the aide predicted. "It may be more difficult than they hoped'' to insure the final bill is free of the teacher training goal, he added.

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