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House Poised To Clear E.S.E.A. Reauthorization

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Washington

Congress continued work last week on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as the House added a provision restoring a less powerful version of the National Assessment Governing Board to its bill and a Senate panel began hearings.

In addition, the House approved by a voice vote, and with little debate, an amendment that would allow school districts to use Chapter 1 compensatory-education funds to establish public-school-choice programs for students and schools served by the program.

John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee, said the measure passed because it was offered in a form "that was the least objectionable to many people.'' Similar amendments including private schools failed at the committee and subcommittee levels.

Vic Klatt, the Republican education-policy coordinator for the committee, said that the amendment would have passed on a roll-call vote, and that he expects the measure to survive an eventual House-Senate conference.

But both aides said it remains unclear to what degree school districts would take advantage of the provision.

The House did not complete work on HR 6, which would authorize a total of $12.4 billion in annual spending for programs in the bill, and now plans to wrap up work this week.

Consideration of HR 6 was delayed when the House canceled one of three scheduled days of debate in deference to the ailing Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., who broke his 40-year record of never missing a floor vote when action resumed.

Senate Hearings Begin

In the Senate, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Thomas W. Payzant, appreared before the Labor and Human Resources Committee to discuss the Clinton Administration's E.S.E.A. proposal.

Mr. Riley focused on the Administration's controversial plan to target more Chapter 1 funding to the most needy districts by increasing the amount of money allocated through "concentration grants,'' which go to districts with high concentrations of poor students, and by increasing from 15 percent to 18 percent the proportion of poor students that counties must have to qualify for the grants.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who chairs the committee, called such targeting "something which is enormously important and worthy of support.''

But other senators disagreed, signaling that the proposal may be as controversial in the Senate as it was in the House, which agreed to more narrowly target only new spending.

High concentrations of rural poverty do not "fit into the formula'' proposed by Mr. Riley, noted Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the committee.

Some senators suggested that debate over the Chapter 1 funding formula might serve as a vehicle to push for a greater federal role in funding education.

Chapter 2 Debate

Ms. Kassebaum also raised two other issues that proved difficult for House members to resolve--whether states should be required to set educational standards to receive Chapter 1 funds and the Administration's plan to eliminate the popular Chapter 2 block grant.

The Administration's proposal would require states to set standards for curriculum content and student performance to participate in Chapter 1. House members had added a provision to HR 6 requiring "opportunity to learn'' standards, which are to measure school resources and services, but the standards were made voluntary after it became clear that opponents had the votes to strike the provision on the House floor.

Mr. Riley tried to defuse the issue of opportunity standards by assuring Ms. Kassebaum that he opposes federal mandates for school "inputs.''

As for Chapter 2, it appears that the senators may follow their House colleagues and split according to party lines, with Republicans opposing the Administration plan to eliminate the program and devote its spending authorization to an expanded version of the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program. The program would fund professional-development projects in multiple disciplines.

Ms. Kassebaum questioned the wisdom of replacing a block grant with a categorical program.

But Mr. Kennedy called Chapter 2 "a slush fund for states.''

In House action last week, lawmakers adopted a series of amendments by voice vote, including the provision that would reauthorize NAGB, which oversees and sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The version of HR 6 approved by the House Education and Labor Committee would have eliminated the board, whose performance has been criticized. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

Board Weakened

The amendment last week would reauthorize the board for two years and limit its funding to $2 million per year. It would also drastically reduce NAGB's authority, by removing its power to determine what subjects should be covered by NAEP and to set standards and procedures for interstate comparisons and achievement levels, and by requiring the board to work with the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement in performing other functions.

Mark D. Musick, the current chairman of NAGB, said that the language would make the board's policy-setting role ambiguous.

Much of the debate last week concerned the education of children who are illegal aliens.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., sought to cut off federal school aid to school districts that fail to submit a count of students in their districts who are not U.S. citizens.

"Whichever side you're on ... it is essential for Congress to know how much it costs to educate illegal aliens and their children,'' Mr. Rohrabacher said.

But opponents, spicing their rhetoric with allusions to Nazi Germany, argued that the amendment would effectively turn educators into agents for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The House defeated the amendment by a vote of 329 to 78, and defeated by voice vote an amendment calling on the federal government to reimburse districts for the cost of collecting the information.

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