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Senate Panel Report Calls for Shift in Federal Education Policies

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Calling for a refocus of the federal role in education and consolidation of Department of Education programs, the Senate Education Budget Task Force released recommendations last week on education spending.

The nine-member task force, chaired by Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., advised the Senate Budget Committee to give states more flexibility in how they spend their federal dollars by providing more block grants and consolidating education programs--two ideas being backed by many in the GOP. It also recommended putting more funding into large-scale educational research projects by states and localities.

The panel, which was created last fall, has held six hearings and could hold more before issuing a final report. In addition, a similar report by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, led by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., is expected late next month. ("Value of Two GOP Education Probes Debated ," March 18, 1998.)

Last week's document prompted a sharply worded dissent from the four Democrats on the panel, who charged that the Republicans had omitted the minority's views from the 40-page interim report.

Although some Republicans want strictly local control of education, the task force report says the federal government should play a major role in identifying and focusing on the problems that schools and students face.

Federal Priorities

States should be encouraged to create strategic plans that help emphasize larger education objectives, the report says, and the federal government should hold states accountable for their progress by threatening to withhold its resources. And while the federal government should not create its own voucher program, it should "stand ready to commit its fiscal resources to states and localities" that want to create voucher systems, Sen. Frist wrote.

"We are actually moving forward on some of those recommendations," said Julie Green, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. She pointed to the Clinton administration's "educational opportunity zones" initiative, a proposed $200 million program that would promote achievement in high-poverty urban and rural areas, and the comprehensive-school-reform effort, which gives money to schools to adopt research-proven reform models.

The Democrats on the task force, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the ranking minority member, called the GOP plan "reckless consolidation." Funding for special needs-groups would likely be lost, and some of that money would go to private schools through vouchers, the Democrats maintained.

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