Republicans Offer 'Straight A's' Plan for Easing Regulation
Congressional Republicans and conservative organizations are lining up behind a new accountability measure unveiled with much fanfare last month, but the plan faces strong opposition from Democrats and education groups.
The proposed "Straight A's" Act would allow states to enter into five-year "performance agreements" with the Department of Education, which in turn would give the states more latitude in spending money under a wide range of federal programs.
The measure is the latest proposal from Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as Congress moves to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Mr. Goodling introduced the measure--HR 2300--on June 22, and Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., introduced S 1266, the Senate companion bill, the same day.
In a Capitol Hill ceremony the same day the bills were introduced, Mr. Goodling and other GOP leaders promised states and districts that Straight A's would provide them with much greater relief from federal regulations without a loss of federal funding for a variety of K-12 programs, including Title I aid for schools serving large numbers of poor children.
But Democrats and education groups quickly blasted the measure. Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, dubbed Straight A's "the Anti-Accountability Act."
In an interview June 24, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley contended that the bill would destroy accountability for federal aid and result in a scattered system inconsistent with national education priorities.
"It'll never become law," added Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators. "It's one more in a long line of time-wasters."
The shape of future debate on the bill remains up in the air. The House committee does not plan to take any action on it right away, and Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was notably absent from last month's GOP event praising the proposal.
Joe Karpinski, a spokesman for Sen. Jeffords and other Republicans on the HELP Committee, said the bill was more a "statement of Republican principle" and likely would not see any action as a stand-alone measure. But some of the ideas may be incorporated into Sen. Jeffords' omnibus ESEA proposal later this year, Mr. Karpinski added.
Meanwhile, Republican Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Pete V. Domenici, who chairs the Budget Committee, have introduced the Education Express Act. That bill--S 1270--would give states the option of receiving a "direct check" that consolidated funding from some federal programs--including the Title VI block grants and charter school grants--provided that the states ensured that 98 percent of the aid was spent at the local level.
The act would require that states target their funding toward low-achieving schools, teacher improvement, and rewards for schools that have made performance gains.
Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 26