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Panel To Review Programs for Redundancy

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House Republicans last week pledged to review every education and training program run by the federal government, contending that the programs are redundant and pose paperwork nightmares for participants.

Inspectors general in 39 agencies have been asked to submit data on the programs to the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee by March 20.

"It's very clear that before we have to make any reform efforts we have to understand where the problems are," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the chairman of the panel's oversight subcommittee, told reporters.

But the Republicans are clearly adopting a critical stance.

"Using spending as the only measurement of education excellence has failed the nation and certainly failed our children," said Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the education committee.

And a news release from the committee states: "Panel Discovers 760 Federal Education Programs--Student Test Scores Decline."

But critics questioned how the lawmakers are using their initial data.

The 760-item list includes such items as Coast Guard boating-safety programs, animal-disease research, and the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the programs listed have nothing to do with K-12 education. And while the release puts the cost of the programs at $120 billion in fiscal 1995, many of them received no appropriations that year.

The release also offers little data to support its broad assertions about falling test scores. It notes only reading and science scores for 17-year-olds on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, while other NAEP results have differed. It also cites a 30-point decline between 1972 and 1994 in average scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test, without noting that the proportion of students taking the test has risen.

Cause and Effect?

"There's not a serious cause-and-effect relationship here," said Edward R. Kealey, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying group here.

School lobbyists portrayed the effort as a way for Republicans to gloss over their own efforts to cut federal school aid, abolish the Department of Education, and replace education programs with block grants--or to cover their failure to move on their agenda.

"It will snow pink in Honolulu on the 4th of July before much of this happens," said Bruce Hunter, a senior associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "It's a way to appear serious while doing nothing."

Congressional aides offered differing assessments of whether the study represents an intent to hold off on, or back away from, controversial education proposals. Cheri Jacobus, the spokeswoman for the education panel, said the inventory could "slow them down or speed them up."

Another GOP aide added, "This will support the case that those who want to abolish the department have been making."

"It's hard to know how to respond because it was somewhat of a non-event," Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said.

Besides, he added, the Clinton administration has "recommended a number of eliminations and consolidations that have been mostly unaccepted by Congress."

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