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Congress Fends Off G.O.P. Attacks, Backs E.S.E.A.

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Washington

The House and Senate beat back Republican attempts to scuttle a major education bill in the final days of the Congressional session and sent the measure to President Clinton for his signature.

HR 6, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, would rewrite most federal K-12 education programs and authorize about $11 billion in annual spending.

Emboldened by the demise of health-care and welfare-reform legislation and Mr. Clinton's waning popularity, Republicans launched an all-out effort just weeks before the mid-term elections to smother several pending bills, including HR 6.

But several Republicans ultimately bucked their leadership to vote for the bill, which was written largely in a bipartisan manner over many months.

The House approved the measure Sept. 30 by a vote of 262 to 132, with 30 Republicans voting in favor and five Democrats voting against passage. Earlier, the House defeated a motion to recommit the report to conference by a vote of 215 to 184, with 10 Republicans and 32 Democrats crossing party lines.

The motion was offered by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Tex., who wanted to insert language that would prohibit schools from receiving federal funds if they do not permit "constitutionally protected prayer."

House and Senate conferees rejected that language, which came from the original House bill, and instead inserted a provision crafted by Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., which bars funding for schools that violate court orders upholding prayer.

When HR 6 reached the Senate floor on Oct. 3, Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R-N.C., announced that he would filibuster the conference report over the school-prayer language. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine immediately filed a cloture petition.

Two days later, senators invoked cloture and limited debate by a vote of 75 to 24, with 19 Republicans joining all but one Democrat, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, D-Ala., in the majority. The Senate eventually passed the measure by a vote of 77 to 20, picking up three more Republican votes.

HR 6 makes numerous changes to current law and adds several new provisions.

The bill requires states and school districts to set high content standards in at least mathematics and language arts, and to develop aligned assessments, in exchange for receiving Chapter 1 grants.

That would, in effect, force states and Chapter 1 schools to participate in the Administration's Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which provides reform grants to states and districts that agree to set standards.

And, for the first time, the law recognizes public school choice and charter schools. It allows Chapter 1 students to move between Chapter 1 schools with the agreement of all schools involved, and it establishes a charter-school demonstration program.

But a key component of the Clinton Administration's original reauthorization proposal--targeting one-half of Chapter 1 dollars on the highest concentrations of poor students--was deliberately discarded by Congress, which endorsed only a slight shift in funding. (See chart .)

"To me, the message is not greater targeting," said Wayne Riddle, a Congressional Research Service analyst who provided Congress with calculations of the effects of various funding formulas. "It's a great deal of inertia and little change."

HR 6 would continue to use the current funding formula for fiscal 1995, which began Oct. 1.

According to analyses by the C.R.S. and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, the five states that stand to gain the most from the new formula in fiscal 1996 are Vermont, Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Wyoming. Those states would see double-digit percentage increases in their Chapter 1 allocations as a result of changes in the minimum allocation for lightly populated states.

Winners and Losers

However, other than those five states, the impact of the formula change differs according to what assumptions are made.

In fiscal 1996, all new grant money allocated beyond the fiscal 1995 level of $6.7 billion would be appropriated under one of two new formulas, or divided between them.

One of the formulas would target more funds to areas with high concentrations of poor children, while the other would reward states that have moved to equalize spending among districts and states where school spending is high relative to per-capita income.

According to one C.R.S. calculation that assumes a 1996 increase of $400 million distributed under the "targeting" formula, 13 states would come out ahead; 36--as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia--would get less money than they would under the current formula; and one would see no change.

States with big cities and many poor children--such as California, Texas, Illinois, and New York--would win under this scenario, although their gains would be proportionately much smaller than the small states' gains.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee calculates that if appropriators put half of the available $400 million into each formula, 29 states would see Chapter 1 increases--albeit in many cases less than 1 percent--and 21 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico would receive less than under current law.

Under either assumption, many of the "decreases" are less than 1 percent, and the largest is no more than 2 percent.

Because the states of several key appropriations-committee members would do better under the "effort and equity" formula, most observers expect them to funnel some money in that direction.

Other Elements

The legislation also:

  • Requires states to enact laws mandating one-year expulsions for students who bring guns to school.
  • Requires state officials to describe how they will help schools meet the challenging content and performance standards. Descriptions may include "opportunity to learn" standards or strategies.
  • Requires Chapter 1 schools to "devote sufficient resources" to professional development. Chapter 1 schools targeted for improvement programs due to stagnant or declining test scores could be required to spend an amount equal to 10 percent of their Chapter 1 dollars over two years on professional development.

With the passage of an E.S.E.A. bill that is linked to the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Clinton Administration has secured a key piece of its agenda, which is focused on spurring standards-based reforms in states and districts.

Other complementary laws enacted during the 103rd Congress include the new School-to-Work Opportunities Act and a Head Start reauthorization law that focuses on quality improvements.

Congress also enacted a national-service program, legislation that moves toward replacing the existing federal student-loan program with direct federal lending to students, a law reorganizing the office of(See ducational research and improvement, and safe-schools and education-technology legislation.

"What the Administration is saying is Goals 2000 is the hub of the wheel ... and then around that hub you've got all these other initiatives that are related to each other and that reinforce each other," said Marty Orland, a senior fellow at the Finance Project, a foundation-funded organization examining education financing.

Next year, the Administration hopes to add additional spokes by offering plans to reauthorize special-education and vocational-education programs that will propose aligning the programs with the standards-setting movement.

But with Republicans expected to gain numerous seats in the House and at least a handful in the Senate--possibly even becoming the majority in that chamber--the Administration's proposals may run into more choppy partisan seas.

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