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Senate Amends, Then Nears Vote, On Clinton's Goals 2000 Measure

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and Lynn Schnaiberg

The Senate late last week was poised to approve its version of the Clinton Administration's education-reform bill.

That action will set the stage for a House-Senate conference, where the central issue will be how prescriptive the measure's provisions requiring states and districts to set educational standards should be.

The Senate spent two days last week debating the school-reform measure, S 1150, and voting on several amendments. The lawmakers were expected to take final action on the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' before adjourning for the week.

Among the amendments adopted by the Senate was a measure sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., which would bar federal education funding for any school district or state agency that does not allow voluntary school prayer.

The amendment passed by a vote of 75 to 22 after Mr. Helms was persuaded to add language stating that it applies only to "constitutionally protected'' prayer.

Senators also accepted a series of amendments sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., explicitly stating that the bill is not intended to dictate to states and districts how to make decisions such as those on class size, teacher certification, instruction, and school-building standards.

The amendments were intended to assuage Republican fears that S 1150 would create federal mandates for issues generally considered to be under local or state control. Sponsors of the bill said the amendments were unnecessary, but accepted them.

How Prescriptive?

The House version of the Goals 2000 plan, which passed last fall, would authorize $393 million to support state and local reform efforts. To be eligible, states would have to submit plans to the Education Department showing that they have established high standards for curriculum content and student performance, as well as so-called "opportunity to learn'' standards, which are to measure school conditions and services. (See Education Week, Oct. 20, 1993.)

The version of the bill that was passed by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last fall also required such standards-setting efforts.

But the version of S 1150 that the Senate debated last week, which would authorize $400 million per year for reform grants, would simply require states to submit "school improvement'' plans outlining strategies for reaching the six national education goals. They would not have to include the standards outlined in the House bill in their improvement plans, although the bill says that they could opt to do so.

Sens. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., last week withdrew an amendment that would have required states participating in the reform strategy to develop opportunity-to-learn standards.

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the labor committee and is the chief sponsor of S 1150, and James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., convinced their colleagues that the amendment would threaten the measure.

An amendment offered by Mr. Gregg to excise any reference in S 1150 to opportunity-to-learn standards was defeated.

More Flexibility

Aides to Mr. Kennedy said they altered their original bill to make it more flexible for states and school districts that are already undertaking school-reform efforts. (See Education Week, Nov. 17, 1993.)

"Every state has to figure out how it's going to meet the national goals,'' one aide said. "States are very clearly going to have to address the question of raising academic standards for kids; you can't meet the goals without addressing the issue.''

"But we are very anxious thatstates begin where they are,'' the aide said, "that they have as their starting point work that they've already been doing and not feel they have to begin at the beginning.''

In addition to the six goals set by the Bush Administration and the nation's governors in 1990, S 1150 would add a seventh goal, on parental participation. Mr. Kennedy was also expected to offer an amendment that would add an eighth goal, on enhancing teacher professional development.

The House bill includes a seventh goal that deals with professional development.

Both versions of the legislation would codify the national goals, formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel, and establish a new National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which would develop model national standards and certify standards voluntarily submitted by states.

A Key Agenda Item

The legislation would also create a new national board to set occupational-skills standards.

Neither bill would mandate state participation in Goals 2000, but the Clinton Administration's proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would require states to set similar standards in order to receive Chapter 1 funds. A House subcommittee last week endorsed this provision. (See story, page 16.)

Congress appropriated $105 million for Goals 2000 for the current fiscal year, which can be spent if the legislation is enacted by April 1.

At a White House news conference last week, William Galston, a deputy domestic-policy adviser to President Clinton, said the Goals 2000 program is the framework for Mr. Clinton's "entire education and training agenda.''

Education reform, Mr. Galston said, is at the heart of Mr. Clinton's strategy to attain greater economic competitiveness.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, also at the news conference, said the legislation would take the federal government in a new direction in education policy, by tapping into a "massive consensus arrived at throughout the country'' on the need to establish high standards for all students.

As Governor of South Carolina, Mr. Riley said, he witnessed an education system with two sets of standards: high ones for white children and lower ones for black children.

"I became totally convinced during my time as Governor that the idea of having lower standards for anybody is a mistake,'' he said.

'Resolvable Differences'

Mr. Riley would not say which version of the bill he supports, saying only that the two contain "resolvable differences.''

But the different approaches the House and Senate bills take on the issue of standards-setting put the Administration in a somewhat difficult position.

The Senate version of S 1150 that had been reported by the labor committee was closer than HR 1804 to the department's original proposal, and observers assumed that the Administration would support the Senate version once a conference began. But the removal of required standards from the current Senate version guts the central tenet of the Administration's proposal.

In debate last week, the Senate added to S 1150 safe-schools legislation, which would authorize $75 million in grants to school districts with severe crime problems. Congress has appropriated $20 million in fiscal 1994 for the program but it must be enacted by April 1 to receive those funds. (See story, page 21.)

Congressional aides said it was likely that the Senate version of legislation to reauthorize the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement, which the labor committee approved last fall, would also be attached to the Goals 2000 measure. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

Indeed, they noted that if the O.E.R.I. bill is not attached to S 1150 or other upcoming legislation, the office's reauthorization could be jeopardized, as the Senate's packed legislative schedule could prevent the reauthorization from getting floor time.

Senators were expected to approve S 1150 late last week, after debating additional amendments on subjects such as school choice, school-based clinics, and school crime.

Key provisions of S 1150, the "goals 2000: educate America
act,'' the Senate's version of the Clinton Administration's
education-reform strategy, would:

  • Authorize $400 million for grants to states that adopt
    systemic reforms. States would be required to submit
    state-improvement plans that describe state strategies to
    increase student achievement.
  • Codify the six national education goals and add a seventh
    and possibly an eighth.
  • Formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel and
    create a new National Education Standards and
    Improvement Council to develop model national standards on
    curricular content, student performance, and students'
    opportunity to learn.
  • Establish a new occupational-skills-standards board to
    develop model occupational standards.

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