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Senate Passage of E.S.E.A. Measure Expected This Week

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Washington

As the Senate prepares to approve its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is clear that the bloodiest battle in upcoming House-Senate negotiations will be an old-fashioned tussle that decides which regions will receive more federal money and which will receive less.

Debate in both the House and Senate has demonstrated that the greatest task facing the lawmakers will be devising a Chapter 1 formula that can pass in both chambers.

"What you do first is see if you can marry them, and if you can't marry them, then you start over,'' said Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The Senate completed much of its work last week on S 1513, and is expected to pass it this week. The House passed its bill, HR 6, in March. The bills would reauthorize most federal K-12 education programs, authorizing more than $12 billion in annual spending.

Negotiators must hammer out a compromise between the bills before programs governed by the E.S.E.A. expire on Sept. 30.

HR 6 would concentrate all new Chapter 1 grant funds above the fiscal 1994 level of $6.3 billion on high-poverty schools.

S 1513 would likewise boost aid to very poor schools, but would also reward states that move toward school-finance equalization and states that spend more on schools relative to per-capita income.

Last week, the Senate rejected an attempt to eliminate the equalization and effort bonuses, and replace them with a calculation benefiting states and counties with low per-capita incomes and high percentages of poor children.

A two-hour debate on the amendment pointed up some of the tensions inherent in the formula fight. In effect, it would hurt states with many inner-city poor children and help states with large percentages of rural poor.

Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., who sponsored the amendment, called the committee formula "one of the most perverse formulas I have ever seen'' and "discriminating in the extreme.'' He cited a General Accounting Office analysis of S 1513's formula that said it may "produce less--rather than more--targeting to educationally disadvantaged children.''

The effort and equity calculations benefit more wealthy states, Mr. Bumpers said, and probably would never help poorer Southern and Western states.

"The Civil War is over. At least I thought it was,'' he said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said the formula is fair and is a "delicate political compromise.''

No matter what formula the Senate crafted, he said, there would be winners and losers. The senator warned that he had an amendment ready that would greatly benefit his home state as well as 30 others--which would presumably allow it to pass.

The Bumpers amendment was rejected by a vote of 46 to 54. Votes on other formula amendments are expected this week.

Prayer and Choice Resurface

The Senate also rejected, by a 47-to-53 vote, language offered by Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R-N.C., that would prohibit federal aid to states or school districts that do not allow "constitutionally protected prayer'' in schools.

Opponents said the Helms amendment would require school administrators to determine what kind of prayer is constitutional, rather than the courts. By a vote of 93 to 7, the Senate adopted language that would bar aid to states or districts that fail to comply with federal court orders that allow "constitutionally protected prayer.''

For the second time in a year, the Senate rejected an amendment that would authorize $30 million for school-choice demonstration programs. This version would have allowed Chapter 1 students to direct their federal aid to any school, including private schools. The vote was 45 to 53.

In other action, the Senate adopted amendments that would:

  • Authorize funding for 10 demonstration projects to test the effectiveness of private management of schools; grants to states or districts that move toward establishing a 210-day school year; and character-education grants for partnerships of states and districts.
  • Clarify that a law requiring one-year expulsions of students who bring guns to school also applies to disabled students, who have been protected by due-process rules under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The amendment was altered to require only a 90-day suspension pending investigation in cases where "life-threatening behavior'' is related to a child's disability.

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