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Behind-the-Scenes Wrangling on E.S.E.A. Continues

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Washington

With the end of the Congressional session and a Sept. 30 deadline looming, legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act may benefit from lawmakers' inability to agree on a large-scale health-care-reform measure.

With such a major piece of legislation off the agenda, Congress will return from its summer recess with more time to consider other matters before campaign season begins. Congress is scheduled to return Sept. 12.

"You hate to see a silver lining in a cloud, but it does help move other legislation," said John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee.

Aides are hustling to reach compromises on hundreds of disagreements between the House and Senate E.S.E.A. bills, HR 6 and S 1513. Both would authorize more than $12 billion in annual spending.

Aides have already reached agreement on a number of provisions, including programs for teacher professional development, magnet schools, bilingual and immigrant education, and safe and drug-free schools, as well as the National Center for Education Statistics. But they declined to offer details of the agreements, which must be ratified by lawmakers.

This week, aides will seek compromise on the most contentious issues in the massive bills as they turn to provisions dealing with the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program.

"We have been working in a bipartisan fashion to this point," said an aide to Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities. "But who knows what will happen when we do Chapter 1?"

Winners and Losers

Most notably, S 1513 and HR 6 contain different funding formulas for Chapter 1. (See Education Week, Aug. 3 and Feb. 16, 1994.)

Key Democratic and Republican House aides say the majority of conferees from their chamber are unified behind the House formula.

"We are for the House formula or nothing," said an aide to Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the House Education and Labor Committee's ranking Republican.

But there are dissenters. In an effort to direct more money to the poorest students, HR 6 would allocate all Chapter 1 money above the fiscal 1994 level of $6.4 billion to school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty. Under fiscal 1995 appropriations bills approved by the House and Senate, that would mean only $300 million.

"A lot of us who support the idea of old money versus new money don't feel as committed now that there's not a lot of new money," an aide to Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., said. "We're just going to have to scrap it and do it again."

Before finishing work on S 1513--which passed on Aug. 2 by a vote of 94 to 6--senators amended the bill's Chapter 1 formula to effectively increase allocations for 38 states, despite opposition from Mr. Jeffords and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Most Senate conferees, an aide to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said, would like to revert to the formula crafted by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Meanwhile, a Congressional Research Service analysis of the two formulas found that 26 states and the District of Columbia would benefit more from the Senate formula than they would from the House bill.

The C.R.S. found "somewhat higher grants for relatively high-poverty [districts] under the Senate version." But, it added, the "differences in estimated grants to high-poverty [districts] ... would be reduced as total appropriations increase."

Other Issues

A number of other Chapter 1 issues must be resolved.

HR 6 would require states to set high standards in "core academic subjects," while S 1513 would require them only in mathematics and reading or language arts. In addition, HR 6 requires a description of how states will implement controversial opportunity-to-learn standards, while S 1513 does not mention such standards.

HR 6 would allow schools with a poverty rate of 60 percent to use Chapter 1 money for schoolwide improvement, while S 1513 would drop that threshhold to 30 percent.

S 1513 would make individual students eligible for the program based solely on economic disadvantage, while HR 6 retains the traditional requirement that children be selected based on low achievement.

S 1513 would set aside some funds to serve high-poverty schools in ineligible districts and for professional development, while HR 6 does not.

In their deliberations, conferees are keeping in mind a filibuster threat made by Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R-N.C. He probably will insist on retaining a ban on federal funds to districts that do not allow "constitutionally protected prayer" or have policies "encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative." The bill's proponents will have to muster 60 votes to cut off debate.

"We'll have 60 votes if Senator Kassebaum is happy and Senator Jeffords is happy [with] the opportunity standards [and] the formula isn't garbage," an aide to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the Labor Committee, said.

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