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Action on Reform Bill Seen Unlikely by Year End

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With the Senate struggling to complete a packed legislative agenda before lawmakers' scheduled adjournment this week, Administration sources and Congressional aides predicted that floor action on President Clinton's education-reform strategy would not occur until 1994.

"It's very, very unlikely that it's going to the floor before Thanksgiving,'' Michael Cohen, a counselor to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said late last week.

"It's a sheer question of how do you get the Brady [gun-purchase] bill done, which everyone is committed to, and how do you get [the North American Free Trade Agreement] done, and then there are a lot of housekeeping things to do,'' said an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee.

"And then, how long do they want to stay in?'' the aide added.

A delay in considering S 1150, the President's proposed "goals 2000: educate America act,'' would not be disastrous, observers say, but would pose an inconvenience for several interested parties.

The expected delay is likely to push back completion of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which lawmakers had hoped to complete by next summer.

And it could delay the Clinton Administration's plans to distribute "Goals 2000'' grants by July 1. (See related story, page 10.)

Some state policymakers also have been waiting for the legislation to begin or advance their own education-reform efforts.

Finally, a delay would inconvenience the National Education Goals Panel, which would be formally authorized under the legislation, an action it has been awaiting for several years.

Lobbying Effort

S 1150 would codify the national education goals, set up an occupational-standards board, establish a federal role in setting education standards, and offer grants to fund state and local reforms. (See Education Week, Nov. 17, 1993.)

Administration officials had hoped to get the bill through the Senate before adjournment so that a House-Senate conference could be scheduled early next year.

Secretary Riley spent much of the last week lobbying senators to bring the bill to the floor.

"It looked like there was a window, and he did everything he could to keep the window open,'' Mr. Cohen said.

Senators, however, were focused on crime legislation and ratification of NAFTA.

An aide to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said that delaying action on the President's education-reform measure would have only a limited impact, because final passage could not have come until early next year anyway.

"Even if we conferenced it and passed it, the Administration isn't going to be handing out grants over Christmas,'' the aide said.

But she noted that it could put off Senate consideration of the E.S.E.A. reauthorization.

"We're never going to get to E.S.E.A. if we don't get this done. I haven't even had a chance to read it,'' the aide said.

"This bill's not going to be out of our hair until February, and that's when we'll start E.S.E.A.,'' she said. "I don't know if we're even going to finish [the E.S.E.A.] next year.''

Limited State Impact

Susan Traiman, the director of education-policy studies at the National Governors' Association, said a delay would be disappointing, but not a serious problem.

"States aren't waiting for this legislation when developing their approaches to systemic reform,'' she said. Rather, she said, they are looking at it as something "they can jump on when [it] passes.''

A delay could have more impact, Ms. Traiman said, on two groups of states: those that have yet to begin systemic-reform efforts and have been waiting for federal leadership and the carrot of development money, and those that are so far along in their reform efforts that they are nearly ready to submit content and performance standards for approval by the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which would be created by the Administration's bill.

Michelle Cahn, the director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance of Business, said a delay would be "disappointing'' because the N.A.B. has been supportive of the standards-setting effort.

The N.A.B. has sent letters to all senators urging quick passage of the bill, and members have called their own senators.

Marty Orland, the acting executive director of the National Education Goals Panel, said the panel is eager to begin revamping its internal management to reflect provisions of the legislation, and to begin recruiting members for the standards council.

"It's just a matter of being able to prioritize and go forward knowing where we stand,'' he said. "We're trying to plan based on the new legislation.''

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