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Clinton, Senate Democrats Vow To Bar D.C. Vouchers

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Senate Democrats have pledged to filibuster, and President Clinton has vowed to veto, a bill that would allow $5 million in federal funds to be spent on vouchers that students in Washington could use at public or private schools.

The House approved the proposal as part of an education-reform package included in the District of Columbia's $4.9 billion fiscal 1996 appropriations bill.

The reform plan would also set up an oversight board, provide aid for school renovation, authorize new charter schools and a residential school, and require the setting of "world class" academic standards. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1996.)

It is not clear whether Republicans can get the 60 votes needed to cut off Senate debate on the bill.

"There would not be any desire to move that conference agreement, in its present state, out of this body," Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the capital city's appropriations, said on the Senate floor Feb. 1, explaining why a vote had not been scheduled

In any case, President Clinton last week told representatives of the National Education Association that he would veto the bill if lawmakers sent it to him with a voucher plan included.

Several months of gridlock over the bill ended last month when Mr. Jeffords, a voucher foe, agreed to a compromise that would allow the local City Council and a scholarship commission to spend the money on tuition vouchers of up to $3,000 or smaller awards for extracurricular and remedial activities.

Gubernatorial Welfare Plan

Hoping to help break an impasse between the White House and congressional Republicans, the nation's governors agreed last week on a proposal for reforming the federal welfare and Medicaid programs.

The plan, which was forged at the National Governors' Association's annual winter meeting in Washington, builds on the framework of HR 4, the welfare bill passed by Congress in December. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1996.)

But President Clinton vetoed that bill last month, and questions remain about whether he would accept legislation modeled on the governors' plan.

The plan endorses lawmakers' proposal to give governors more control over welfare programs and remove the programs' entitlement status, which means that Congress would no longer be bound to appropriate enough money to serve everyone eligible for benefits. However, the governors' plan would double, to $2 billion, the size of a contingency fund states could tap if economic hard times increased their welfare rolls.

Like HR 4, the plan would place a five-year lifetime cap on federal cash assistance, from which states could exempt up to 20 percent of their caseloads.

It would add $4 billion to the $9.8 billion HR 4 authorized over six years to pay for child care for welfare recipients who must work.

The governors' Medicaid plan, which adopts elements of plans backed by Mr. Clinton and Republicans, would guarantee coverage for poor pregnant women and children up to age 6, for children ages 6 to 12 who met stricter income criteria, for the elderly, and for people with disabilities.

It would also ensure that states had access to additional funds if more people than expected sought Medicaid benefits.

Texas Flexibility

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has named Texas as the nation's fifth "Ed-Flex" state.

The designation allows state education officials to waive many federal education rules for school districts, and requires the states to waive similar state rules.

Enacted as part of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the education-flexibility provision authorized the department to choose six states to participate in a pilot project. Texas joins Ohio, Oregon, Kansas, and Massachusetts as "ed-flex" states.

To participate, the states must also submit a school-improvement plan under Goals 2000, which provides school-reform grants to states and school districts that agree to set high academic standards and accompanying assessments.

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