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$12 Billion E.S.E.A. Bill Clears Senate Panel

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Washington

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week approved legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, clearing the way for floor action as early as this week.

The panel approved S 1513 by a vote of 16 to 1, with Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., dissenting. The bill would extend most federal programs in precollegiate education for five years, authorizing more than $12 billion annually.

The Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities approved the measure in May, and the full committee had postponed its markup twice. But it took action in time to get the bill on the floor by the July 4 recess, which proponents say is critical because health-care legislation and appropriations bills are expected to dominate the Congressional calendar throughout July.

Like its House counterpart, the Senate bill includes many key provisions sought by the Clinton Administration: increased targeting of Chapter 1 dollars on the neediest students, a requirement that states submit school-improvement plans that include promises to set high standards, and a new professional-development program.

But lawmakers rejected the Administration's proposed Chapter 1 formula, under which 16 states would lose Chapter 1 money in fiscal 1995--assuming the appropriations level sought by the Administration--while the other states would gain money.

Under the Senate bill, 47 states would receive first-year increases at that appropriations level, while the District of Columbia and three states--Virginia, New Jersey, and Nebraska--would be level-funded.

Dueling Formulas

The formula would employ a complex series of calculations using a series of weighting elements--which take into account students' perceived educational burden, state finance-equalization efforts, and other factors--to determine how much money would flow to each state and school district. Some low-poverty districts would be eliminated from the program, and other changes would direct more funds to needier districts. (See Education Week, May 25 and June 15, 1994.)

Committee members rejected by voice vote a proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to alter the portion of the formula that rewards states that have attempted to equalize spending among school districts. Mr. Bingaman's proposal would have made it easier to qualify for the equalization "bonus,'' which only Iowa and West Virginia would receive under the bill.

Those states are home to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending, and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Bingaman noted that his home state would have received a smaller increase in fiscal 1995 under his plan than under the formula adopted by the full committee, and an aide said the senator offered the proposal to spur his colleagues to "take a less parochial view.''

Moreover, Mr. Bingaman's aide said, a more realistic threshold might spur states to explore equalization options.

"We want to keep working to improve the formula to reach our goal of targeting money on the poorest students,'' said Thomas W. Payzant, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, while adding that the Administration prefers the current Senate formula to the one approved by the subcommittee.

Formula Debate To Continue

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the committee chairman, acknowledged that the formula will remain controversial.

"It's going to continue to be an issue, certainly on the floor and in conference,'' he said.

Indeed, education advocates are already scrambling to determine who the winners and losers would be under the various scenarios.

In a letter sent to Mr. Kennedy before last week's markup, officials from the Council of the Great City Schools said they "found divergent results among some of our poorest cities.'' Some cities receive "significant increases'' under the proposal, the letter said, but others "appear to drop below their current share of program dollars in the initial year of the new bill.''

The letter, signed by the council's president, Joseph Fernandez, and its executive director, Michael Casserly, also criticized set-asides that would keep as much as 4.5 percent of funding from filtering down to the local level.

S 1513 would allow states to reserve 2 percent of their total Chapter 1 allocation to serve high-poverty schools that are located in ineligible districts, while the subcommittee version would have required states to reserve 10 percent of their funds for this purpose.

Other set-asides include 1.5 percent for state administrative costs, and 1 percent for early-childhood-transition programs.

The committee added language to the bill designed to forestall lengthy debate over proposals to require states to adopt opportunity-to-learn standards measuring school services, as well as standards for curriculum content and student performance and aligned assessments.

Opportunity to Learn

Those standards would be required under S 1513. However, while the Administration proposed that they cover all core subjects, the Senate bill would only require standards for mathematics and reading, the subjects most commonly taught in Chapter 1 programs.

The opportunity-to-learn language, proposed by Mr. Kennedy, requires states applying for Chapter 1 funds to describe "the steps the state will take to help each [district] and school affected by the plan to develop the capacity to comply'' with content and performance standards. It was approved on a voice vote, and was supported by several Republicans.

The committee rejected, by a vote of 13 to 3, an amendment by Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., that would have required states to establish opportunity standards or strategies that address such specific areas as teacher capabilities and school facilities.

In another section of the bill that was added after subcommittee consideration, senators followed the lead of their House colleagues on revamping the impact-aid program, which assists school districts that lose property taxes due to the presence of federal land or workers.

Both bills would determine payments with a series of weighting factors that tries to calculate a student's perceived burden. However, the two bills differ in the weight assigned to each factor, and only the House bill would provide more funds for students with disabilities.

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