GOP Report Underscores Two Views on Federal Role
The ingredients of the Republican recipe for federal education policy have resurfaced in recent weeks, through the release of a long-awaited report and new initiatives designed to reduce federal bureaucracy.
Unveiling their "Education at a Crossroads" report in July, Rep. Peter Hoekstra and fellow Republicans offered a formula for public schools with roots in the GOP education agenda: block grants and fewer federal rules, more parental involvement, and back-to-basics academics.
With Congress scheduled to recess this month and adjourn for good in early October, the Republicans have already begun working on related legislation, and one bill that follows their agenda--the proposed Dollars to the Classroom Act--may be voted on shortly after the August recess.
The report and the Dollars to the Classroom legislation--which would merge funding for 31 federal education programs into one block grant--are likely to be merely symbolic works given the relatively little time left in this year's session. But, assuming that Republicans retain control in the 106th Congress, both could lay the groundwork for next year's anticipated reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its related K-12 programs.
"What we have learned should concern every American," Mr. Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations for education and workforce issues, said in announcing the report's findings at a July 16 news conference. "We found little evidence proving the effectiveness of federal programs."
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia was among the GOP lawmakers at the briefing.
Members of Mr. Hoekstra's subcommittee spent more than two years traveling across the country, mainly to members' home districts, to visit schools and talk with local officials about the effectiveness of federal initiatives. The "Crossroads" report, which Mr. Hoekstra called "the most comprehensive review of federal education programs undertaken by Congress," was first scheduled for release late last year. ("Value of Two GOP Education Probes Debated ," March 18, 1998.)
Upon the report's release, House Democrats quickly blasted its conclusions, and claimed they were shut out of the planning process for the study and the 22 hearings associated with it.
"It was more or less set out with an objective in mind," said Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. "I don't think there was any effort to balance the witnesses."
"That's baloney," Mr. Hoekstra responded in an interview. He charged that Democrats had refused to participate in the process and were usually given 30 to 60 days' notice of scheduled hearings.
The Dollars to the Classroom Act debate, meanwhile, is also likely to spark fierce opposition from Democrats, who contend that it would unravel accountability in federal funding. If enacted, the measure would create a federal education block grant with few rules on how states and schools use the money. Many education groups--including the Council of Chief State School Officers--also oppose the measure.
"The whole idea of collecting money from taxpayers and sending it back without any establishment of needs, goals, or criteria of admission is simply not acceptable," Ms. Mink said.2
The same debate surfaced in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee late last month, as the panel approved a measure that would expand an experimental program that gives states some freedom from federal regulations for education programs. The bill, S 2213, would expand the "Ed Flex" program from the 12 states where it is allowed now to all 50 states.
More immediately, "Education at a Crossroads" highlights the gulf between the Republican take on federal policy and that of the Clinton administration.
Debating the Facts
"The contents of this report are riddled with inaccuracies, and its recommendations again fail to address the most critical needs of America's students, teachers, and schools," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said.
The report contains a transcript of Mr. Riley's testimony at a Washington hearing last year, in which he was unable to provide the exact number of federal education programs.
The GOP puts that total at 760, while the Education Department says federal education programs number fewer than 200.
The two sides also squabbled over the amount of federal school funding that reaches the classroom. Mr. Hoekstra maintained that it's no more than 65 to 70 cents out of every dollar, while the Clinton administration says it is more than 95 percent.
The Washington-based American Association of University Women also gave the report a thumbs-down. The AAUW released a poll of 600 Democratic, Republican, and independent women voters that showed they favored a strong federal role in education. The "Crossroads" report "flies in the face of what the majority of women voters want," said the AAUW's executive director, Janice Weinman.
Ms. Weinman attended Mr. Hoekstra's news conference to announce the report, and the Republicans there told her that voters should first and foremost focus on the quality of federal programs rather than the quantity.
Vol. 17, Issue 43, Pages 30,35