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O.E.R.I. Compromise Strikes Balance On Control of Research Agenda

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Washington

After months of debate over who will control the education research agenda, lawmakers agreed last week to a compromise that would give some authority to an independent, policymaking board, but not as much as some proponents of the idea had wanted.

The agreement approved last week by a House-Senate conference committee strikes a balance between a House bill that sought to rein in the executive branch's control and a Senate bill that would have allowed Education Department officials to have more authority over the office of educational research and improvement.

The House passed its bill, HR 856, on Aug. 2, 1993. On Feb. 10, the Senate attached its version of the bill, originally S 286, as an amendment to HR 1804, the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act.'' The strategic maneuver was designed, in part, to insure that the O.E.R.I. legislation would make it onto the Congressional agenda. Congress must move quickly to pass Goals 2000 if it is to meet an April 1 deadline.

The key question in the reauthorization debate has been how much authority a new board would be given over the O.E.R.I.

Many observers, including some members of Congress, believe the O.E.R.I.'s work has been overly influenced by the political whims of the administration in power. This perception has led lawmakers to cut--and restrict the use of--its budget. (See Education Week, Dec. 8, 1993.)

"People were concerned that this would turn into a renegade situation, with the assistant secretary [for research] and the board working at odds--we want a cooperative arrangement and worked out some consensus,'' an aide to Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., the chief author of the House bill, said.

"If this were the previous administration, I don't think we would've come as far as we have'' to strike a compromise, he added.

Many observers said the compromise still represents a major shift.

Gerald E. Sroufe, the director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, called it "watershed legislation.''

The Clinton Administration has carefully avoided taking a clear public position on the issue of the policy board. Sharon P. Robinson, the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said she would want a "broadly representative board with all the key stakeholders involved.''

Balance of Power

According to aides and lobbyists, the conference agreement calls for the assistant secretary to work in concert with the new board to develop a long-term research agenda. But the board would give final approval to the plan, and the assistant secretary would be a nonvoting member.

Conferees agreed to create a 15-member board that is to include five researchers, five educators, and five people with "general knowledge of educational needs.''

The House bill named specific organizations that would submit nominations for some board slots, from which the Secretary of Education would choose the board members, while the Senate bill would have required only consultation.

Sources said the compromise calls for the board's five researchers to be nominated by the National Academy of Sciences, but it was unclear last week whether the Secretary would have to accept nominations for other slots.

The board would appoint its executive director, but the executive branch would hire other board staff.

It was unclear whether the board would have the authority to develop standards for soliciting and conducting research, as proposed by the House.

The legislation would reorganize federal research centers under five thematic institutes, a setup patterned after the National Institutes of Health.

The institutes would focus on early-childhood issues, postsecondary and adult education, at-risk students, education governance, and curriculum and assessment.

All five would be set up at the same time, while the Senate bill would have required that only three be established immediately.

Funding for the institutes would be authorized at a total of $100 million, with more funds granted to the institutes on at-risk students and curriculum and assessment.

Each research center is to receive at least $1.5 million.

While S 286 would have allowed the O.E.R.I. to double the number of regional laboratories from 10 to 20, the compromise would allow for only 12, and provides for public comment and approval by the states that would be affected.

The labs would be organized under a new office of dissemination and reform assistance.

Each new lab would receive at least $2 million. Overall authorization for the labs was set at $41 million.

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