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Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as Priorities Emerging for ESEA Reauthorization

Priorities Emerging for ESEA Reauthorization

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School choice, accountability, teacher training, and adopting scientifically proven classroom practices will likely be top priorities for Republicans when Congress begins overhauling the Elementary and Secondary Education Act next year.

Two congressional aides--one Democrat, one Republican--gave their predictions on what will likely be a contentious, drawn-out debate during a legislative conference held here this month by the American Association of School Administrators. The ESEA reauthorization is slated to begin next spring.

The ESEA controls the largest slate of K-12 education programs administered by the Department of Education, ranging from Title I grants to charter schools, technology programs and professional development. Programs authorized by the measure received a total of $10.28 billion in the fiscal year now ending. All of the programs target needy populations, particularly Title I, the flagship precollegiate initiative that offers funding for schools with low-income populations. Title I was a $7.38 billion program in fiscal 1998.

On the same day as the Sept. 18 AASA forum, House Republicans passed their proposed Dollars to the Classroom Act, 212-189. The bill, HR 3248, would create a $2.7 billion block grant by consolidating funding for 31 education programs.

While no action on the bill has been scheduled in the Senate, it still gives a strong indication of GOP members' aims going into the ESEA reauthorization process. The bill emphasizes a Republican goal of reducing strictures on spending federal funds.

"The Dollars to the Classroom Act will send more money to classrooms than ever before," said Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee and was a chief sponsor of the bill. "I believe we will see real change take place."

Rep. Bill Goodling

And, in another possibly telling sign, the House defeated, by a 215-190 vote, an amendment by Democrats to include President Clinton's proposals on class-size reduction and hiring 100,000 new teachers in the bill. ("House Spending Bill Takes Conservative Line," Aug. 5, 1998.)

In the days before the Dollars to the Classroom vote, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley blasted the plan and instead endorsed Mr. Clinton's proposal to use federal tax credits to help districts pay interest on school construction loans.

"If Congress is serious about getting dollars to the classroom, I urge them to adopt our legislation," Mr. Riley said at an AASA luncheon.

If, as expected, the GOP retains its majorities in the House and the Senate after November's midterm elections, Democrats could find themselves on the defensive in next year's reauthorization. Already, Department of Education officials are meeting with school officials and gathering input for their ESEA proposal, which will likely be released next spring, said Julie Green, a spokeswoman for the department.

Choice and Funding

As part of the reauthorization process, Republicans will also be looking for ways "to encourage challenging state standards and tough accountability systems" that will also include teachers, said Townsend Lange, an aide to Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

While the GOP has opposed President Clinton's proposal for voluntary new national tests in reading and mathematics, Ms. Lange said the leaders may search for ways to compare the results from different states' assessments.

Public school choice and charter schools are also leading concerns for GOP members, she added.

The Education Department's 10 regional labs are also likely to go under the congressional microscope next year, and the Republicans will probably look at ways to refocus their efforts on more school-oriented activities, such as curriculum development, Ms. Lange said.

While Ms. Lange urged the administrators to adopt a cooperative spirit and work with GOP leaders, Danica Petroshius, an aide to the Democrats on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, told the audience they should prepare to fight against attempts to privatize services and create vouchers.

Ms. Petroshius asserted that Republican members would likely say, "'Let's call every school a charter school, and if we just contract out, everything will be better,'" she said. "They're going to put vouchers in Title I under the guise of helping poor kids."

The GOP, meanwhile, hopes to woo school administrators through proposals such as the Dollars to the Classroom Act.

"We share the same goal in the area of giving you more flexibility and, frankly, more money," Ms. Lange told the AASA members.

But some members of the audience cited finding and hiring qualified employees as their greatest need. Instead of block grants, several said, they need more money to improve teachers' and administrators' salaries and benefits in order to attract more high-quality professionals into the field.

"We've always known what works--good teachers in the classroom," said Esther Coleman, the executive director of the American Association of Personnel Administrators in Virginia Beach, Va. "Help us--we are frustrated."

Elise L. Ax, the assistant superintendent for compensatory education in the fast-growing Clark County, Nev., district, agreed. She said in an interview that her 192,000-student district had already hired 1,700 new teachers this year and is still looking for 150 more special education teachers.

Although the reauthorization is slated to be finished by next fall, Ms. Lange predicted it will take two years of debate to compose and pass a bill.

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Pages 18,22

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