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Senate on Tight Time Line To Approve E.S.E.A.

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Washington

When Senate committees meet in coming weeks to hammer out legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the lawmakers will be struggling to meet a deadline.

The Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities held its final hearing on the bill last week, and it has scheduled a markup for this week. The full Labor and Human Resources Committee is expected to take up the bill next week.

Observers suggest--and some Senate aides agree--that keeping to that breakneck schedule, while achievable, will be difficult.

"One of the difficulties with the Senate,'' Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association, said last week, "is the principals, as they say, have not been engaged yet.''

Senators must get S 1513 out of committee before the weeklong Memorial Day recess begins on May 30 to insure that it can secure floor time early next month--before health-care reform is expected to dominate the agenda.

"It's not a question of whether it's going to make it or not,'' Mr. Edwards said. "What happens is the amount of time and attention [the E.S.E.A. bill receives] is curtailed. And that changes the dynamics on both sides of the aisle.''

Lobbyists and aides say the bill that committee leaders will unveil publicly at this week's markup will likely incorporate the most important elements of the Clinton Administration's E.S.E.A. proposal, including provisions that would:

  • Require states to set high curricular-content and performance standards for Chapter 1 students, effectively requiring states and school districts to participate in the Administration's Goals 2000 education-reform strategy.
  • Target more Chapter 1 dollars to districts with high concentrations of poor children. Aides would not say last week what funding formula the Senate bill will use, except to hint that they based their deliberations on the Administration's proposed funding formula rather than the less dramatic change proposed in HR 6, the E.S.E.A. reauthorization bill the House passed in March. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994.)
  • Provide greater flexibility in the use of federal funds in exchange for more accountability for student performance.
  • Emphasize professional development by expanding the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science program to cover multiple disciplines.
  • Eliminate the Chapter 2 block-grant program.

Challenges Expected

Some of the provisions are likely to be challenged during the committees' deliberations.

Aides to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., and Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., said they will fight the standards-setting requirement, which they argue would force states to set standards not only for Chapter 1 students but for all students.

"Let's not drive the curriculum through Chapter 1,'' an aide to Mr. Jeffords said. "The six cents out of every [education] dollar coming from the federal government should not drive the curriculum.''

Liberals, meanwhile, may offer amendments that urge states to set "opportunity to learn'' standards measuring school services.

"We want the state to look at the tools they are providing to see how they help schools and students meet those standards,'' an aide to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said.

But an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Labor committee, said: "We're not going to do anything with the words 'opportunity to learn' in it.''

Mr. Simon and others are also weighing proposals to provide bonus Chapter 1 dollars to states that have equalized their school-finance systems, and to prod other states to move toward equity among their school districts, the aide to Mr. Simon said. It is unclear whether the version of S 1513 to be presented to the subcommittee will contain an equalization provision.

Republicans also hope to retain Chapter 2, an amendment they will probably raise on the floor.

The Administration proposed killing it and setting authorized spending for the expanded Eisenhower program at a level equal to current funding for both programs. The House bill includes both the expanded program and Chapter 2.

Three G.O.P. members of the House Education and Labor Committee last week took the unusual step of publicly urging their Senate colleagues to retain Chapter 2, arguing at a news conference that, without it, many small and rural schools would not be able to buy computers or library books.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the panel's ranking Republican, said they "would be very naÃive politicians if'' they waited for a House-Senate conference to speak up.

"If the Senate did nothing, and we had a lot of lukewarm people here, then it's too late,'' he said.

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