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House Passes E.S.E.A. Bill After Weeks of Debate

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Washington

The House last week took advantage of a change in the legislative schedule to pass a bill that would reauthorize the major federal programs in precollegiate education.

By a vote of 289 to 128, the House gave final approval to HR 6, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for five years.

In fiscal year 1995, the bill would authorize $12.4 billion in spending for all the programs included in the act, rising to $13.8 billion by fiscal 1999.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley called the House action "one more giant step forward in this Administration's efforts to insure that all of America's children, including our most disadvantaged, have equal access to a quality education.''

As the Clinton Administration proposed, the bill would require states and school districts receiving Chapter 1 money to establish high content and performance standards for their Chapter 1 students.

HR 6 would not require states to set "opportunity to learn'' standards for school services, an idea championed by liberal Democrats seeking to foster equity. But they would be encouraged to use such standards as a diagnostic tool for poorly performing schools. (See Education Week, March 2, 1994.)

The House did not accept the Administration's proposal to drastically revamp the Chapter 1 formula. However, all money appropriated for Chapter 1 grants above the fiscal 1994 level of $6.3 billion would be distributed under a new formula that targets districts with the highest concentrations of poverty. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1994.)

Title I Returns

The bill would also restore the program's original name, Title I.

HR 6 would create several new programs, most notably an education-technology initiative and a program supporting teacher professional development.

The Clinton Administration had proposed eliminating the Chapter 2 block-grant program and creating an expanded version of the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science program whose authorized funding would approximate the total for both current programs. However, House members decided instead to retain Chapter 2 and still create the expanded program, which would support professional-development efforts in a variety of disciplines.

The House was able to complete action on the measure last week because consideration of an omnibus crime-control bill was stalled by a partisan dispute. The House used part of the time that had been allotted for the crime bill to pass HR 6.

For four consecutive weeks, the House had debated HR 6 without voting on final passage, moving at a snail's pace because the bill was brought up under an unusual "open rule,'' which allows almost unlimited amendments. Typically, the House Rules Committee decides which amendments can be offered.

In action last week, the House adopted an amendment that would bar federal funding for school districts that prohibit "constitutionally protected,'' voluntary school prayer. It accepted the amendment by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Tex., by a vote of 345 to 64.

School-Prayer Language

The language is identical to that attached by the Senate to its version of the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' earlier this year, at the behest of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. That language, however, was modified in a House-Senate conference committee to simply prohibit districts from using Goals 2000 grant money to restrict school prayer. (See related story, page 16.)

Before accepting Mr. Johnson's amendment, the House rejected an amendment that would have taken the same approach, barring districts from using any funds from programs included in HR 6 to restrict voluntary prayer.

That amendment, offered by Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., was defeated by a vote of 239 to 171.

In other action, the House:

  • Adopted an amendment that would ban smoking in schools.
  • Rejected a proposal to eliminate bilingual-education programs.
  • Defeated a substitute bill offered by Rep. Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., the House minority leader, that essentially contained the Clinton Administration's E.S.E.A. proposal, and was apparently meant as a barb.
  • Approved an amendment that would raise the authorization level of the Emergency Immigration Education Act to $75 million.
  • Passed an amendment that would bar districts from using funds obtained through programs in HR 6 for any activity "that has either the purpose or effect of encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.''

The Senate has just begun hearings on the E.S.E.A. reauthorization, and the Labor and Human Resources Committee is expected to mark up its bill in May.

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