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Block Grant Compromise Put Forward

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The author of a proposed education block grant is offering to preserve seven programs he initially targeted for elimination, but the concessions aren't enough to win over his opponents.

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said he would recommend that a House-Senate conference committee keep independent funding for vocational education of secondary and junior college students and the training of disabled adults. He also said he would encourage the committee to save two technology-grant programs, Indian education, an arts education program, and the Reading Is Fundamental book-distribution program.

He wants the vocational education and training programs to stay on their own because they are "not primarily directed at K-12 education," he said in a statement on the Senate floor Sept. 23. The other modifications were made to "incorporate the suggestions of several supporters for minor improvements."

"These changes, however, do not offset the amendment's overall philosophy, which is to restore the decisionmaking authority ... of parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members," Mr. Gorton added.

Opponents Not Appeased

If Mr. Gorton's block grant proposal were to be approved in a final spending bill, existing programs for school reform, drug-free schools and communities, charter schools, and several other activities would be merged into a no-strings-attached grant that would go directly to school districts, starting in the 1998-99 school year. ("House Rejects Block Grants in Passing Appropriation," Sept. 24, 1997.)

While the amended Gorton proposal represents the start toward a compromise, it doesn't address the main concerns of its foes.

"We would not favor the adoption of the Gorton amendment in any form," said David B. Williams, a spokesman for Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass. Mr. Tierney recruited 167 other House members--five of them Republicans--to sign a letter urging House appropriators on the conference committee to reject the block grant. Last week, 43 senators also threatened a filibuster over the matter.

The Gorton amendment would end the long-standing clause requiring federal funds to supplement local money. That means cities could use increases in federal aid as an excuse to cut local spending on schools, according to an analysis by the House Democratic Policy Committee.

The fate of the block grant will be decided in the coming weeks by a panel of appropriators from the House and the Senate. The House bill contains no comparable provision.

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