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Goodling Bill Would Limit Federal Standards Role

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The likelihood that Congress will restrict the federal role in developing national educational standards increased last week, as a top lawmaker introduced a bill that would limit that role and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley indicated that the Clinton Administration would not fight to protect it.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, would prohibit further federal funding for development of academic standards and eliminate the National Education Standards and Improvement Council.

It would also remove all references to so-called opportunity-to-learn standards in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which require states to adopt standards or strategies for insuring that all students receive an adequate education.

The standards council, created under the Goals 2000 law, is to certify model national content standards and standards voluntarily submitted by states. It has been subject to intense criticism in the past several months by those who contend it would amount to "a national school board" and provide too much federal control over local education matters.

Members of the council have not been named, and Secretary Riley said at an appropriations hearing last week that the Education Department is "not all that disturbed" by NESIC's possible demise.

Mr. Goodling's bill, HR 1045, would continue to allow the National Education Goals Panel to review voluntary content and performance standards.

Two similar bills have been introduced in the Senate. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

Welfare Reform

The House Ways and Means Committee was poised to approve a welfare-reform bill late last week, after voting to relax a rule that would deny benefits to the children of unwed teenage mothers.

An earlier version of the Republican-backed bill--which would give states most responsibility for administering welfare programs--would have barred children born to unwed mothers under age 18 from ever receiving cash payments. But Rep. Bill Archer, R-Tex., the committee's chairman, inserted language that would allow such children to receive benefits once their mothers turned 18.

The committee also approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka, D-Wis., which loosened provisions that would make it harder for poor, disabled children to qualify for the Social Security Income program.

Democratic amendments that would have required states to provide working mothers with child care and establish teenage-pregnancy-prevention programs were defeated.

Republican leaders plan to move the bill to the House floor later this month.

Also last week, the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources held a two-day hearing on the impact of welfare reform on children and families. Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., the panel's chairwoman, quizzed witnesses about welfare-to-work programs and the costs of child care.

Balanced Budget

The Senate last week fell two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget, with 65 senators voting in favor of the amendment; 35 against.

The vote was delayed throughout last week as the Republican majority negotiated with holdout Democrats in an effort to gain their support. The proposal has generally been opposed by education groups, which fear it would lead to cuts in school aid.

Initially, all but one of the 53 G.O.P. senators, Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, voted in favor of HJ Res 1. In a parliamentary move, the majority leader, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, switched his vote to no and made a "motion to recommit" the measu, allowing him to bring it up again at a later time.

Mr. Dole, who is expected to announce his bid for the Presidency soon, has vowed to make the matter an issue in the 1996 race.

The House approved a similar resolution last month. Had the Senate passed it, the issue would have moved to state legislatures, three-fourths of which must approve constitutional amendments.

Loan Risk

The guaranteed-student-loan program, despite progress in cutting its losses, has again been listed among the riskiest federal programs by the General Accounting Office.

The G.A.O. issued its first set of reports on programs susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse in 1992, and the recent report is the first full-scale follow-up.

Losses in the Federal Family Educational Loan program have declined by more than $1 billion since 1991, a development investigators credit to the Education Department's efforts to crack down on fraud, coupled with stronger gatekeeping measures introduced by Congress in the Higher Education Act of 1992.

The G.A.O. praised both institutions for being responsive to its previous suggestions, but suggested it was too early to assess the effectiveness of changes in procedures.

Despite the improvements, the program lost $2.4 billion last year, due largely to what the G.A.O. termed "structural problems." The G.A.O. expressed concern about the department's continued inability to maintain reliable loan data. Its previous difficulty keeping "unscrupulous" schools out of the guaranteed-student-loan program indicates a potential for further abuse as the new direct-loan program expands from 100 to 1,400 colleges next year, the report says.

It also contends that the agency has failed to develop a plan for the transition to direct loans. "The advent of [direct lending], coupled with significant growth in student-loan demand, could put a strain on the department as it continues to address problems in the F.F.E.L. and other student-aid programs," the G.A.O. warns.

Single copies of the report, "Student Financial Aid," which is part of the G.A.O.'s "high-risk series," are free from the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20884-6015; (202) 512-6000; fax: (301) 258-4066; tdd: (301) 413-0006.

Construction Aid

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a supplemental-spending bill that would restore $100 million in cuts to school-construction aid that the counterpart House bill would use to help offset new defense spending

Instead, the Senate panel voted to slice $100 million from what they said was a surplus of Pell Grant appropriations from fiscal 1994, which ended Sept. 30.

The construction aid, which is targeted to needy areas, is to be spent in the current fiscal year. Last month, the Clinton Administration proposed cutting the funds in its 1996 budget plan, but amended the proposal to a $65 million cut under pressure from Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and other supporters.

Both the House and Senate defense-supplemental bills would also cut $200 million from five job-training programs that serve adolescents--about one-third of the $598 million appropriated for the programs in fiscal 1995.

The bill now moves to a House-Senate conference committee.

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