Stage Set for Senate Showdown on Goals 2000
The linchpin of the Clinton Administration's education agenda was headed for a showdown in the Senate late last week as Democrats scrambled to assemble enough votes to shut off a Republican filibuster of the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act.''
The filibuster, led by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., delayed a final vote on the compromise that had been worked out by House and Senate negotiators, but further action was expected over the weekend.
It was unclear late last week if proponents would muster the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture.
Their most immediate concern is $105 million that has been already appropriated to launch an education-reform grant program included in the bill. The funds are available only if the bill is enacted by April 1. Because a recess for Easter and Passover observances was scheduled for March 25, Congress had to act last week in order to meet the deadline.
The Senate majority leader, George J. Mitchell of Maine, vowed to keep the Senate in session as long as needed to pass HR 1804.
Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which has ardently supported the measure, said he was "cautiously optimistic, [but] a lot of things can happen.''
The Goals 2000 legislation is the centerpiece of the Administration's education agenda because its call for the setting of national and state content and performance standards establishes a framework for the Administration's other proposals.
Goals and Standards
It would, for the first time, write into law a strategy for linking state and local school-reform efforts with federal programs.
HR 1804 would codify the national education goals, formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel, and establish two boards to oversee the certification of educational and occupational-training standards.
States participating in the grant program, which would be authorized at $400 million per year, would have to draft reform plans that include setting state content and performance standards. The compromise version also requires them to establish "opportunity to learn'' standards or strategies, a requirement that persuaded some Republicans not to support the conference report. (See Education Week, March 23, 1994.)
The House approved the compromise last week by a vote of 306 to 121.
In a statement, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley hailed the vote as "one more indication that the education and safety of America's children is too important to be delayed by partisan politics.''
The proximate cause of Mr. Helms's filibuster is school-prayer language. He had added an amendment to the Senate version of the bill barring federal funding for school districts that prohibit voluntary, "constitutionally protected'' prayer in schools. The final bill only bars districts from using Goals 2000 grants to adopt policies prohibiting voluntary prayer.
While Mr. Helms has long been an advocate of prayer in public schools, observers said partisan politics may have been at play last week, contending that Republicans sought to deny the President a victory on the education-reform bill at a time when he is under fire over the Arkansas land deal that has come to be known as Whitewater.
Some also suggested that the decision by the National Governors' Association to take no position on the bill may also have been politically motivated.
The N.G.A. had been one of the most vocal supporters of Goals 2000 and precursor bills considered by Congress in 1990 and 1992.
The association's chairman, Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, said in an interview that while the bill that emerged from conference is more palatable to the group than the House bill--which contained opportunity-to-learn provisions unacceptable to the governors--it gave more standards-setting authority to the new National Education Standards and Improvement Council than to the National Education Goals Panel.
N.G.A. policy, he said, requires the panel and NESIC, which would develop model national content and performance standards and certify standards voluntarily submitted by states, to have equal power.
"We are in this dilemma,'' Mr. Campbell said. "We're caught with actions that [have been] taken by the association.''
Other observers suggested, however, that the South Carolina Republican, who is expected to be a candidate for President in 1996, is trying to subvert legislation he mostly agrees with in an effort to score political points.
Implementation Plans Ready
"People see through it right away,'' one lobbyist said. "It's partisan politics.''
"If there's any bill that's a governor's bill, it's Goals 2000,'' said Arnold F. Fege, the director of federal relations for the National PTA. "The Education Department and the education community have bent over backward to make concessions to the governors.''
Asked whether he would be pleased if the bill passes, Mr. Campbell replied: "I can't basically say [I would be] pleased or unpleased. I'm still chairman of the organization.''
Other governors, however, have pledged support for the bill. Other groups aiding the Administration's lobbying efforts last week included the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Business Coalition for Education Reform, and the state chiefs. Most of the education community has been only lukewarm about the bill, although no group has opposed it.
"We have no special tricks up our sleeves,'' said William A. Galston, a deputy domestic-policy adviser to President Clinton. "The combination of the merits of the bill, the urgency with which it needs to pass, and the demonstration of bipartisan support should be enough, and we'll see if it will be enough.''
Earlier last week, Administration officials outlined their strategy for implementing Goals 2000 at a meeting of state chiefs here.
Michael Cohen, a counselor to Secretary Riley, said grant money would be available as soon as July 1 for use during the 1994-95 school year--providing the April 1 deadline is met--and application forms would be available next month.
Mr. Cohen said the Education Department is planning orientation meetings, including a conference in mid-May, and may hold additional meetings for groups working on state reform plans.
State plans would be reviewed through a peer-review process similar to that used by the National Science Foundation for its state systemic-reform initiative, he said.
Key provisions of the conference report to HR 1804, the "goals 2000: educate America act''
National Education Goals:
Codifies the six goals established in 1989. Adds two new goals on teacher education and professional development, and parental participation.
National Education Goals Panel:
Formally authorizes the panel, created to monitor progress toward the goals. It will have the authority to review certification criteria for voluntary state education standards and model national standards.
National Education Standards and Improvement Council:
The new 19-member panel is to certify content, performance, and opportunity-to-learn standards as well as assessments, voluntarily submitted by states; develop model national content and performance standards; and certify model national opportunity standards developed by consortia.
National Skills Standards Board
Establishes a new 28-member panel, with representation from business, labor, and education, that will fund the development of voluntary skill standards for specific occupations and endorse the standards.
State and Local Systemic Improvement Grants:
Authorizes $400 million for states that submit plans including content and performance standards; opportunity standards or strategies; assessment systems; strategies for aligning curricula and assessments with content and performance standards; and professional-development strategies. States make subgrants to school districts to implement local plans. An additional $5 million is authorized for educational-technology programs.
The Secretary of Education may reserve up to 5 percent of funds for research and technical assistance related to standards-setting and school-finance equity.
The Secretary of Education is given broad authority to waive federal regulations that impede reforms, and the option to establish demonstration programs in six states based on such increased flexibility.
Reauthorizes the office of educational research and improvement, reorganizing federal research centers within five thematic institutes, covering: curriculum and assessment, authorized at $30 million; at-risk students, $30 million; governance and management, $10 million; early-childhood education, $15 million; and adult and postsecondary education, $15 million. Each center is to receive at least $1.5 million. Institutes should be established by Oct. 1, 1995.
Regional laboratories, authorized at $41 million, will be overseen by a new office of reform assistance and dissemination. At least 10 labs must be funded; two or more may be added if funding allows each lab to receive $2 million.
Creates a 15-member National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board to work with the assistant secretary on a long-term research agenda. The board has final approval over the plan and standards for conducting and evaluating research. Independent evaluations of O.E.R.I's work are required.
The board elects a chairman. The National Academy of Sciences nominates researchers for membership, and the Secretary will appoint five such nominees. He will also name five "school-based professional educators'' and five members that can be parents, state officials, superintendents, or school board members.
Authorizes $50 million in fiscal 1994 for grants to school districts with high rates of violent crime for equipment such as metal detectors, school-safety planning, and conflict-resolution programs.
Requires the Secretary of Education to develop a long-range educational technology plan. Creates an Office of Educational Technology in the Education Department.
Parental Assistance Centers:
Authorizes grants to consortia of nonprofit agencies and school districts to establish centers for teaching parenting and leadership skills.
Minority-Focused Civics Education
Authorizes $5 million for grants to state agencies, higher-education institutions, or nonprofit organizations to develop civics programs for minority students.
Authorizes $11 million in grants, administered by the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency, for the study of education in foreign countries and dissemination of information of American education.
Prevents states and districts from using Goals 2000 grants to adopt policies prohibiting voluntary school prayer.
Requires federally funded programs that provide contraceptives to minors to "encourage'' parental participation.
Bars federal funding for districts that do not expel for at least a year students who bring guns to school.
Prohibits smoking in schools, libraries, and health centers where services are provided to children and registers a daily $1,000 fine for violations.