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E.S.E.A. Reauthorization Clears Senate Panel

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A Senate panel last week approved legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that follows the House's lead in adopting key concepts from the Clinton Administration's bill but rejecting proposals to eliminate the Chapter 2 block grant and dramatically shift Chapter 1 funding to the neediest districts.

As the Administration proposed, S 1513 would call on districts and states to submit school-improvement plans in exchange for Chapter 1 dollars, expand the act's professional-development component, and offer greater waiver authority to the Secretary of Education. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, 1993.)

However, while the House essentially agreed with the Administration's plan to require states to set high content and performance standards to participate in Chapter 1--effectively mandating participation in the Goals 2000 education-reform strategy--the mandate approved last week by the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities is narrower.

And the Senate panel drafted a Chapter 1 formula that differs from both the Administration proposal and the one included in HR 6, which was passed by the House in March. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994.)

"I do think we have a process and a formula that does the best that we can at this time,'' said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the full Labor and Human Resources Committee.

He noted that S 1513, which would authorize nearly $11 billion in extending most federal programs in precollegiate education, was crafted to elicit bipartisan support.

In a relatively smooth 40-minute session, the subcommittee approved the bill unanimously. A more lengthy and contentious debate is expected when the full committee takes up the bill this week.

"We're going to care about details next week,'' an aide to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said.

Mr. Kennedy said he hopes S 1513 can be considered on the Senate floor soon after lawmakers return from a Memorial Day recess.

A Bipartisan Process

S 1513 is the result of several weeks of behind-the-scenes work by aides to Democratic and Republican committee leaders.

"I would definitely say it was done in a bipartisan manner, and I'm not sure anybody's thoroughly happy with it, which means we must have done a good job,'' said an aide to Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the full committee.

The bill's formula for Chapter 1, which would revert to its old name of Title I, employs a complex series of calculations but would in the end inflict little budgetary damage on most states.

According to estimates provided by a subcommittee member, only two states--Virginia and New Jersey--and the District of Columbia would see their Chapter 1 allocations drop in fiscal 1995, and all by less than 3 percent.

Under the Administration's formula, 16 states would receive less than in fiscal 1994.

"Formula is probably 50 percent or more politics,'' the aide to Mrs. Kassebaum said. "I don't think it's education policy at all.''

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., offered the Administration's formula proposal as an amendment, which failed on a voice vote. He said he hoped to develop a compromise formula for consideration by the full committee that would provide more money to districts with high concentrations of poor children.

S 1513 would abolish the distinction between concentration and basic grants and create a new formula that would divide money among states and districts based on several factors.

They would include counts of poor children; average per-pupil expenditures; "education spending effort,'' defined as per-pupil expenditure divided by per-capita income; and the degree of school-finance equalization in a state, itself determined with a complex formula that is weighted to take into consideration the higher costs associated with educating at-risk children.

A Web of Factors

The formula is designed to reward states that have made strides in equalizing resources among districts and jurisdictions that spend more money relative to income.

Districts would be eligible for grants if they have at least 100 poor children left after subtracting the first 5 percent of poor children in the district; or if the district's poverty rate is at least equal to the state average.

Districts with more than 50,000 students would determine their number of poor students with census data; others could choose to use other data, such as the number of children on welfare.

States are also directed to set aside 10 percent of the total funds earmarked for their districts to funnel to schools that are located in ineligible districts but themselves have student poverty rates higher than the state average.

HR 6, in contrast, merely specifies that increased Chapter 1 funding would be distributed under a formula that is more generous to districts with high concentrations of poverty.

Both bills would tighten a rule requiring districts to serve schools with the highest poverty rates first.

S 1513 would allow schools with poverty rates of 30 percent or more to operate schoolwide projects--which would allow most Chapter 1 schools to do so. HR 6 would gradually lower the current 75 percent threshold to 60 percent.

Standards and Assessment

One significant difference between the House and Senate bills is that S 1513 would require states to set content and performance standards only for mathematics and reading, while HR 6 requires them in all core subjects.

In addition, the Senate bill does not call on states to establish opportunity-to-learn standards, as does HR 6. But amendments addressing that politically charged issue are expected at the committee level.

Both bills would require states to submit comprehensive reform plans, which must include pledges to adopt assessment systems that use multiple measures, are aligned with state standards, and address higher-order thinking skills. The bills leave to the states the question of how to design these "alternative'' assessments and how to evaluate programs until they are in place.

They also tighten rules requiring districts and schools whose Chapter 1 students show insufficient progress to undergo a program-improvement process and tie the process to the new assessments.

Like its House counterpart, the Senate panel rejected the Administration's proposal to eliminate the Chapter 2 block grant.

The Administration had proposed combining the current authorization levels for Chapter 2 and the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science program to create an expanded, multi-discipline professional-development program.

Instead, lawmakers in both chambers agreed to create the new program, but retained Chapter 2 with a lower funding ceiling.

S 1513 would rename it the "Targeted Assistance Program,'' and lists seven categories of initiatives the money could be spent on. But they are broad enough that schools could still use the money for virtually any educational purpose.

S 1513 would also:

  • Substitute S 1040, the proposed "technology for education act,'' for the Administration's educational-technology title.
  • Require states to set aside 1 percent of their Chapter 1 money for grants to districts to provide coordinated social services for children in grades K-3. HR 6 would allow, but does not require, states to set aside 5 percent of all E.S.E.A. funds for that purpose.
  • Reauthorize the National Assessment Governing Board.
  • Echo a House provision that would effectively remove a cap of 25 percent on the amount of bilingual-education funds that can go to programs that do not use students' native language. Districts can be exempted from the cap if they cannot find certified bilingual teachers or have students speaking so many languages as to make a native-language approach impractical.

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