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House Panel Rejects Clinton's Chapter 1 Formula

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Washington

A House panel last week narrowly rejected the Clinton Administration's proposal to shift more Chapter 1 dollars to districts with high concentrations of poor students, and instead adopted a plan that would direct funding above the current level to the poorest districts.

The action came as lawmakers approved HR 6, a massive bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The E.S.E.A. includes most federal programs in precollegiate education, worth nearly $10 billion a year.

In addition to revamping the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program--which would revert to its old name, Title I, under the bill--the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education voted to eliminate the Chapter 2 block grant and broaden the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program.

Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., who chairs the subcommittee, called the legislation "the most important reauthorization since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first enacted in 1965.''

The panel approved HR 6 on a 18-to-8 vote. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., who co-sponsored the compromise Chapter 1-formula proposal with Mr. Kildee, was the only Republican to vote for the measure. No Democrats voted against it.

The proposal approved by the subcommittee would guarantee school districts currently receiving Chapter 1 funds that they would continue to receive as much money as they did in fiscal 1994 as long as appropriations do not decline.

But if Congress appropriates more in future years than the $6.4 billion allotted for 1994, the new funds would be doled out under a formula that gives greater weight to districts with higher percentages of poverty, as measured by Census counts of poor children.

Quantifying Poverty

Districts with poverty rates of less than 14.265 percent would be weighted at 1.0, and those with higher rates would receive gradually increasing weights. At the top of the scale, districts with poverty rates of 36.539 percent or more would be weighted at 1.5.

HR 6 would also require the use of district-level poverty data when available, rather than the county-level data that is now used, and direct the Census Bureau to update poverty figures every two years.

The subcommittee approved the Kildee-Petri formula with a voice vote, after rejecting the Administration's proposed formula by a vote of 14 to 12.

The Administration plan would concentrate more Chapter 1 dollars on the poorest counties. Most significantly, it would set aside 50 percent of all Chapter 1 dollars--compared with only 10 percent under current law and the Kildee-Petri proposal--for "concentration grants'' to the poorest areas, and increase the eligibility threshold for those grants.

As expected, debate over the funding formula was the most emotionally charged of the day.

Supporters, typically those from urban areas that would gain the most under the Administration's proposal, urged their colleagues to dismiss parochial concerns.

"Over the next five years, we will be bombarded with the same number of failures among the children, the programs, and the schools'' if the Administration's proposal is not adopted, said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "Tell your constituents ... you've invested in success instead of failure, failure of the most vulnerable children and families in America.''

Opponents said too many schools would be eased out of the program.

"While I understand the President,'' said Mr. Kildee, "we are effectively robbing Peter to pay Pauline in this formula.''

Reconsideration Likely

The issue is certain to be revisited when the full Education and Labor Committee considers HR 6, as it is scheduled to do this week.

Administration officials said they would attempt to redraft their proposal to make it palatable to more members of the committee.

"It was a good battle, but what it represents is there's a lot of feeling for the idea,'' said Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith, the primary architect of the Administration's E.S.E.A. proposal.

But John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel to the Education and Labor panel, predicted that the subcommittee vote would be the "high-water mark'' for the Administration plan because the full committee and the House have lower percentages of urban members.

Mr. Smith said that HR 6 would increase the percentage of Chapter 1 funds going to the poorest quartile of counties from 43.4 percent to about 43.6 percent, while the Administration's proposal would increase that share to 49.8 percent.

Aid Tied to Standards

Although it rebuffed the President on the formula issue, the subcommittee essentially adopted the philosophy behind the Administration's reauthorization plan by requiring states receiving Chapter 1 funds to establish high standards for curricular content and student performance, and assessment systems "aligned'' with the standards. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1994.)

The bill would effectively require states to participate in the standards-setting effort embodied in the Administration's Goals 2000 reform strategy, which is on its way to separate Congressional approval. (See story, page 18.)

The subcommittee deferred action, however, on an amendment that would require the state plans to also include so-called opportunity-to-learn standards. To receive grants under the Goals 2000 bill, states would have to adopt standards for school services as well as curriculum and achievement, but the "opportunity'' standards were not included in the Administration's proposal for Chapter 1.

Republicans said they fear that requiring such standards would lead to federal dictates on how schools spend their money.

HR 6 would also give the Secretary of Education increased authority to waive federal rules and would allow states and districts to consolidate funds from multiple programs.

'Corrective Action'

The subcommittee also largely accepted the Administration's proposals for revamping the Chapter 1 "program improvement'' process, which aims to force reforms of poorly performing programs.

Under HR 6, the performance of a school's Chapter 1 students would be judged using the new state standards and assessments. Much criticism has been leveled at the current law's reliance on standardized-test scores.

While current law allows state officials to intervene in districts whose Chapter 1 programs do not show improvement, the new provisions would give more structure and force to potential sanctions. Under HR 6, districts would be authorized to take "corrective action'' in schools targeted for improvement, and required to do so if no improvement occurred in three years.

In turn, states would identify districts with low-performing schools and would be required to intervene if no improvement was evident within four years.

Corrective action could include staff reassignment, new governance systems, and student transfers.

The subcommittee passed by voice vote an amendment that would eliminate Chapter 2 and modify an Administration proposal to recreate the Eisenhower math and science program to aid professional-development efforts in multiple disciplines. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1994.)

Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., and Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the panel's ranking Republican, sought unsuccessfully to add a provision reauthorizing Chapter 2, arguing that educators appreciate a program that allows them to choose how they use their grants.

"You can't run around the country and talk about flexibility as this Administration and this department are doing and then eliminate any element of flexibility,'' Mr. Gunderson said, adding that the bill would pick up more Republican votes if Chapter 2 is restored.

Other Provisions

In addition, HR 6 would:

  • Effectively remove a cap that allows no more than 25 percent of federal bilingual-education funds to go to programs that do not use students' native languages. HR 6 would allow the Education Department to fund more of those programs in districts where many languages are spoken in one classroom or bilingual teachers cannot be found.
  • Restore some programs that would be eliminated under the Administration's plan, such as the National Writing Project. The bill does not include some new Administration proposals, such as creation of an Office of Technology Education and a program to encourage charter schools.
  • Allow schools to use up to 5 percent of their E.S.E.A. funds to provide coordinated social services.
  • Revamp the impact-aid program by weighting federally connected students according to their perceived burden on school districts, and transfer the program to the Defense Department budget.
  • Replace separate technical-assistance provisions for individual programs with a system of 15 comprehensive centers, as the Administration proposed. The bill also adopts an Administration proposal to provide technical aid to states to improve school-finance equity.
  • Withhold federal aid to districts that do not expel students found bringing guns to school.


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