Controversial Goals 2000 To Face New Uncertainties
In the five years since President Clinton introduced it as his first major education initiative, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act has survived several death threats.
This year, its resiliency will be tested again.
In 1998, Goals 2000--a grant program that aims to encourage higher standards for student learning--will face one of its greatest challenges.
That's because authorization to spend federal money on the program officially expires on Sept. 30 at the end of the government's current fiscal year, and many of its critics are hoping to redirect its $491 million budget toward priorities such as hiring new teachers or giving schools general revenue.
Points of Contention
While Congress routinely waives its rules to allow spending on programs after their funding authority expires, a Republican majority that came close to wiping out the initiative three years ago may not be eager to do that for Goals 2000.
Even so, the Clinton administration remains optimistic. President Clinton plans to submit a proposed fiscal 1999 budget that would continue funding the program. One-year funding extensions for programs are "pretty automatic," Michael Cohen, the president's education adviser, pointed out.
But other programs don't have the same active and organized critics that Goals 2000 has attracted on Capitol Hill and in conservative grassroots circles.
In 1993, shortly after its introduction, Goals 2000 drew the ire of liberals, who complained that it would introduce high-stakes assessments that would be unfair to the students in problem-plagued schools.
The intraparty squabble among Democrats and tepid support from Republicans sidetracked the measure for a year before Congress sent the president a Goals 2000 bill to sign.
Once Republicans won control of Congress in the 1994 elections, the law became, for the GOP, a symbol of what many in the party viewed as an attempt by the administration to supplant the power of local school boards. Republicans sought to eliminate the program, but failed after Mr. Clinton insisted that it receive funding in extended budget negotiations in 1995 and 1996.
This year, the debate will turn in another direction. After losing the public relations battle over cutting federal education spending, Republicans are looking to funnel the program's money to other programs.
Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., says Goals 2000 has been too controversial to gain support from enough conservatives on the Education and the Workforce Committee, which he chairs.
He says he would rather merge Goals 2000 with the $350 million Title VI state block grant program, another Department of Education effort that provides schools with formula grants to spend on just about anything they please.
The administration would "do well in just saying: 'We'll put extra money there [in the block grant] and forget the term Goals 2000,'" Mr. Goodling said in the interview last month.
Mr. Goodling would like to authorize spending at the level of the Goals 2000 allocation and the block grant funding combined, an aide to his committee said. However, congressional appropriators would decide how much to spend on the expanded block grant.
Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., on the other hand, wants to abolish Goals 2000 and replace it with a five-year grant program to support the hiring of 100,000 new teachers.
The $2.5 billion that otherwise would be spent on Goals 2000 would pay for about one-third of the $7.5 billion initiative.
At the introduction of Goals 2000 in April 1993, Clinton administration officials envisioned a $1 billion-a-year grant program that eventually would pay for standards-based reforms in all of the nation's 15,000 school districts.
Because of the contentiousness that has surrounded it, the annual funding for the state-grant program has never topped $491 million--the amount it received in fiscal 1997 and the current budget year, fiscal 1998.
What's more, in fiscal 1996, the Clinton administration toned down the initiative's focus on standards and assessments. To appease conservative critics, the administration agreed to changes that took away federal power to review states' academic standards.
Now, states can qualify for their grants simply by assuring the Education Department that they have adopted standards.
"You can get the money if you put some stuff on paper, and there's not a lot of federal control on it," said Chris Pipho, a spokesman for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based coalition of state officials.
Without the standards requirements, many states have spent their Goals 2000 grants on technology or projects unrelated to standards and assessments--projects similar to those financed by the federal block grant.
But some states have kept the focus on writing standards that outline what students should know and creating tests to measure whether students are learning up to those standards.
Even though Goals 2000 itself has lost its original focus, it has provided the framework for revisions to Title I that emphasized high-quality instruction for the first time, according to Susan Fuhrman, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education. Title I, the largest federal K-12 program, is aimed at improving the achievement of disadvantaged students. 2
That reform has sparked the kind of national dialogue on student learning that the Clinton administration hoped Goals 2000 would inspire, according to one of the program's primary architects.
"The measure of Goals 2000 is that we've got 47 or 48 states with standards," Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary of education, said in an interview. "A lot of states are on the way toward aligned assessments. We've begun to move the field in a way that they are grappling with performance standards."
By contrast, the block grant that Mr. Goodling hopes to augment wouldn't give schools enough money to undergo serious reforms, Mr. Smith argued. Title VI, formerly known as Chapter 2, appropriates about $5 per student, he said.
"You can't do very much with that. Buy a couple of computers, and that's it," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Cohen say they expect Congress to appropriate Goals 2000 money this year for fiscal 1999. Later, the administration will submit a proposal to reauthorize the program for future years.
The initiative may eventually be rolled into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is due to be reauthorized for fiscal 2000, the officials said. The esea includes Title I, the Title VI block grant, and dozens of other K-12 programs.
Some conservatives still contend that Goals 2000--even with its revisions--has gone too far. Goals 2000 has "definitely forwarded ... the idea that a school is about more than academics, it's a social services center," said Jennifer A. Marshall, the education policy analyst for the Family Research Council, a Washington-based group.
"It's fundamentally different in philosophy" from a back-to-basics, academics-first approach, she said.