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Delay of E.S.E.A. Debate Fuels Concern About Timing

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Washington

A Senate panel has suspended work for two weeks on a bill to rewrite the majority of federal programs for elementary and secondary schools, fueling concern that the bill will be shunted aside this summer while Congress debates health-care-reform legislation and appropriations bills.

According to Congressional aides, the delay of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee's mark-up of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--which would authorize more than $12 billion annually for five years--was prompted by the need for senators and their staffs to focus on health care, and by their failure to come to an agreement on the contentious issue of rewriting the funding formula for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program.

"Basically, we don't have a formula,'' said an aide to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., who is the committee's ranking Republican. "That's the problem in doing a bill in a month that we usually do in three or four months.''

The mark-up has been rescheduled for next week, and senators hope to bring S 1513 up for floor consideration a week later, the same time they had originally planned to do so.

The timing of the bill has been affected "to no appreciable degree,'' said an aide to Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., the chairman of the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, which approved the bill last month.

But other aides and lobbyists say that scheduling conflicts may push back passage of the bill.

About a half-dozen committee aides are working on both the E.S.E.A. bill and a version of the Clinton Administration's proposed "health security act.'' That overlap has caused considerable strain, aides said, because the health bill was under debate in the committee for most of last week.

More Targeting?

With such constraints, said an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the committee, "You can't do a good job, and you can't get your boss to focus on what he or she is voting on, and that's not fair.''

Moreover, Mr. Kennedy took time out last week to attend the funeral of his sister-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Several lobbyists said that getting a compromise bill out of a House-Senate conference committee and through both chambers by August, an artificial deadline set by Congress and the Clinton Administration, will now be difficult.

"I thought it was pretty important to get it out of committee even without all of the i's dotted and t's crossed just to get it as far ahead of the health-care bill as they could,'' said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "It's doable this year, but they can't postpone it much further without it being problematic.''

Aides said they will use the time to work out details of the funding formula and such other matters as a revamping of the impact-aid program and a new program for urban and rural districts.

"We meet every day and get [computer] runs,'' the Kennedy aide said. "We're keeping at it.''

Aides are looking at ways to further target Chapter 1 funds to the neediest students. The formula approved unanimously last month by the subcommittee was unacceptable to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who said that too many relatively wealthy school districts would receive funds under the plan at the expense of poorer ones.

An aide to Mr. Simon said there has been movement "toward some real targeting through a variety of approaches.''

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