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House Republicans Unveil Bill To Ax E.D., Create Block Grants

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Washington

House Republicans announced a plan last week to eliminate the Education Department and compress most education programs into block grants.

The proposed "back-to-basics education reform act" was unveiled in outline form by a G.O.P. group known as the House Education Task Force.

Most of its members are drawn from the 73-member Republican freshman class, many of whom have also worked with Rep. John R. Kasich, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, on broader plans to downsize the federal government. The House earlier this month endorsed a seven-year budget plan drafted by Mr. Kasich that also calls for eliminating the Education Department. (See Education Week, 5/24/95.)

"Our mission is to transform education," said Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., who chaired the education group. "It's not about budget cutting. It's not about devolution. It's about what works."

Mr. Kasich joined the news conference to praise the group. He said its ability to produce the legislation so soon after the House passed its budget resolution indicates that "we mean business." But the task force did not introduce actual legislation and provided only a summary.

Grants to Governors

The proposal would create two new block grants for precollegiate and higher education that would be administered by governors.

A few programs would not be subsumed by the block grants, notably special education, vocational education, impact aid, and student financial aid.

Under a block grant for elementary and secondary schools, which would be authorized at $9 billion, funds would be divided among the states based on student population. Governors would decide how to allocate money within states, and would be required to take school districts' poverty levels into consideration when developing a distribution formula.

The Education Department's current budget for the elementary and secondary programs that would be replaced by the block grant is about $10 billion.

All federal rules, other than those "necessary to guarantee the timely distribution of funds," would be wiped out. School districts would "be required to make a public accounting" of how they used the federal money.

Governors could allot private schools some federal dollars under the legislation, according to a spokesman for Mr. Scarborough, but would not be required to do so.

Private schools are eligible for funding under several existing precollegiate programs. Under the largest, the $7 billion Title I compensatory-education program, states and districts are required to serve eligible private school children on an equal basis with public school children. Private schools are also eligible for aid under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Innovative Education Program Strategies block grant.

A second block grant, authorized at $2 billion, would go to states for distribution to institutions of higher education.

Under the plan, the Health and Human Services Department would administer the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as several student-aid programs, including the Federal Family Education Loan program, Perkins loans, and Pell Grants. The direct-lending program favored by the Clinton Administration would presumably be abolished.

The Labor Department would administer job-training and vocational-education programs, which would be replaced by block grants under pending proposals, including a bill approved by a House committee last week. (See related story.)

The Defense Department would administer impact aid, which goes primarily to districts with many(See education programs, and the Justice Department would assume responsibility for enforcing civil-rights laws in schools and colleges.

The bill will contain no provision for federal education research, statistics gathering, or assessment, Mr. Scarborough's spokesman said.

Competing Proposals

Earlier this year, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., and Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, announced that they would draft a proposal to merge the Education and Labor departments. (See related story .)

A spokeswoman for Mr. Goodling said legislative language for the merger proposal should be available within six weeks, and the committee will begin hearings soon afterward.

Proposals to change the structure of government agencies also fall under the jurisdiction of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and Mr. Scarborough said he expects the task-force plan to go to that panel first, probably by next winter.

Last week, the government-reform committee's Government Management, Information, and Technology Subcommittee held a more general hearing on the issue.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., appeared to have mixed feelings. While he called for "the consolidation or elimination of duplicative activities," he bristled at suggestions that the President could perform the public-relations role of a Cabinet-level secretary of education if the Education Department were abolished.

"The President has a lot of other things to do than make bully-pulpit statements about education," Mr. Horn said.

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