Published Online: March 26, 1997


Federal File

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From a new angle

Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., raised a few eyebrows among education lobbyists when he traded his seat on the committee that gives federal money away for the one that decides how the government will collect taxes.

The Senate's most liberal Republican had spent years trumpeting his plan for major increases in federal education spending. Without a seat at the table when annual appropriations are decided, he might lose his chance to promote one of his pet projects, observers thought.

Not so, the folksy senator told the Council of Chief State School Officers last week in Washington.

Mr. Jeffords said he deliberately used his seniority to claim a spot on the Finance Committee--the Senate's most prestigious and sought-after panel. To do so, Senate rules required that he relinquish his position on the Appropriations Committee.

As an appropriator, Mr. Jeffords found spending caps to be an impossible obstacle to reaching his goal of raising education spending to 10 percent of the federal budget--about five times its current percentage. As a Republican, he decided it would be easier to persuade his GOP colleagues to lower taxes than raise spending for the Department of Education.

Now, instead of seeking new federal money for schools, he plans to use his new committee assignment to create tax breaks for educators and businesses who support schools, he said.

As an appropriator, he would have fought every year trying to fund professional development for teachers. Now, even as a junior senator on the tax panel, he might hold enough sway to get a tax deduction for teachers who pay for their own career advancement, he told the chiefs.

Or he could persuade colleagues to provide businesses with tax breaks for donating computers to schools--an idea he credited to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

In addition to the ideas he mentioned, Mr. Jeffords has others he's keeping under wraps for now. But, he added after his speech: "The biggest problem we have right now is professional development."


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