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Fiscal 1995 Spending Bill Affirms Reorganized Research Office

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Washington

In a fiscal 1995 spending bill passed recently by the House, lawmakers approved language that would require the Education Department to conduct much of its research through the newly reorganized office of educational research and improvement, a move that would reduce the Clinton Administration's control of some of its own education initiatives.

The House Appropriations Committee approved HR 4606 last month by a voice vote. The full House passed it by a vote of 339 to 89 after beating back attempts on the floor to reduce the $27.2 billion included in the bill for Education Department programs.

When the agency's research functions were reauthorized this spring, the O.E.R.I. was reorganized into five thematic institutes with a governing board that has the authority to draft a long-term research agenda.

The agency's critics have long said that the O.E.R.I. has been too easily controlled by the political whims of whatever administration is in power, and the reorganization was an effort to set up a less politicized governance structure for education research. (See Education Week, Dec. 8, 1993.)

"I was very concerned that we saw no acknowledgment of this reauthorization in the [President's] fiscal 1995 budget request,'' said Dena G. Stoner, the executive director of the Council for Educational Development and Research. "This sends a very clear message.''

Controlling the Agenda

The Administration's budget indicates that officials intend to operate many key research-oriented initiatives outside that governance structure. But the House bill would require them to transfer the funding and management of a long list of research, evaluation, and demonstration programs to the O.E.R.I.

The programs targeted for transfer include high-profile research efforts under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the School-to- Work Opportunities Act.

Before obligating 1995 funds, the Secretary of Education would be required to send appropriators a report detailing the transfers. By Jan. 15, 1995, the Secretary would be required to submit another report justifying any requests to operate research programs outside the O.E.R.I.'s domain.

"If it's your issue, you want maximum control over it--this is nothing new with this Administration,'' said an aide to Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., one of the primary authors of the reauthorization law.

Mr. Owens asked David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to include the language, the aide said. Both lawmakers have been fierce critics of previous administrations' management of the O.E.R.I.

Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said Education Department officials would discuss the transfers with lawmakers, arguing that some of the initiatives might provide educators with quicker, more direct feedback if they were managed by a program office instead of an O.E.R.I. institute.

"We may see this somewhat differently than they [lawmakers] did,'' Mr. Smith said.

Sharon P. Robinson, who heads the O.E.R.I. as assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, declined to comment.

An aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds Education Department programs, said that the panel has not decided whether to include language in its bill mandating control of research by the O.E.R.I.

A 'Delicate Balance'

The House bill was approved after two days of floor debate, which included attempts to kill the Native Hawaiian Education Act and a program that funds centers at law schools where students give legal aid to low-income clients. Both survived in separate floor votes.

Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that funds education and social-service programs, proposed cutting $15.1 million from the Education Department's administrative funds to fund community health centers. The plan had been rejected by the Appropriations Committee earlier last month.

Indeed, Rep. Neal Smith, D-Iowa, the chairman of the subcommittee, systematically shot down moves at the full committee markup to shift funds, citing the bill's "delicate balance.''

The Porter amendment was initially approved on the floor, but the House leadership scrambled for votes and brought up the issue again, defeating the Porter measure by a vote of 217 to 211. Many Democrats labeled the amendment a Republican ploy to undermine health-care-reform legislation.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., failed in an effort to remove language from the bill that would delay implementation of new student-aid rules.

The so-called "85-15'' rule, which is to go into effect in July, would cut off proprietary schools from student aid if they do not receive at least 15 percent of their income from sources other than federal aid programs. The schools have lobbied heavily against the rule, arguing that it is inconsistent with traditional accounting methods and would force schools out of business.

The committee amendment would delay implementation of the rule for one year. Ms. Waters's effort to strike the amendment was rejected by a vote of 63 to 365.

An amendment by John L. Mica, R-Fla., to add $25 million to the emergency immigrant education program was also rejected.

The Senate panel could take up its fiscal 1995 spending bill as early as this week.

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