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Published in Print: October 27, 1999, as Fellow Republicans Urge Jeffords To Revise ESEA Plan

Fellow Republicans Urge Jeffords To Revise ESEA Plan

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No sooner had the chairman of the Senate education committee released his draft plan for reauthorizing the nation's main K-12 education law this month than critics from both parties began raising questions about it.

On Oct. 15, the same day Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., unveiled his plan, seven of the nine other Republicans on his Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee--including Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the chairman of the Children and Families Subcommittee--sent him a letter seeking dramatic changes.

For one, they urged Mr. Jeffords to include "Straight A's"--or the Academic Achievement for All Act--in any reauthorizing legislation for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The GOP-backed Straight A's would grant states freedom from requirements under most federal precollegiate programs in exchange for their commitment to raising achievement for all students.

"[W]e believe that it is essential to include in the base bill an opportunity for more flexible federal funding for states that are willing to be held more accountable," the seven Republicans wrote.

At the same time, the plan is proving difficult for Democrats to swallow because it would consolidate President Clinton's $1.2 sbillion class-size-reduction initiative, Goals 2000, and the $375 million Title VI block grant program into $2.2 billion in block grants to states.

"It in effect does away with our commitment to [reducing] class size, and we are not going there," said Scott Fleming, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for legislation.

The ESEA "discussion draft" that Mr. Jeffords released Oct. 15 would, for the most part, retain the basic structure of the ESEA as it was last reauthorized in 1994, including the existing provisions for targeting Title I aid to disadvantaged students and emphasizing standards-based reform.

The draft includes a few significant departures, however. Mr. Jeffords is also proposing, for example, the creation of a new early-childhood program, to be financed at $7 billion over five years, to increase the availability of voluntary educational programs, services, and activities that support children up to age 6. The program would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services in collaboration with the secretary of education.

"I don't think any bill intended to help our children achieve academically can ignore" the first years of life, Mr. Jeffords said in a statement.

The plan also would launch a rural initiative allowing small, rural districts to combine money from different ESEA programs and a new competitive-grants initiative to support high school improvement. In addition, it would expand and modify the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which is designed to help public schools provide education and other services to all members of the communities they serve.

Teacher-Quality Push

In their Oct. 15 letter, the seven Republican critics of Mr. Jeffords' draft also pressed their chairman to add ESEA language on the proposed Teacher Empowerment Act. Introduced by Mr. Gregg in August, the bill would consolidate funding from the Eisenhower professional-development program, the class-size-reduction initiative, and the Goals 2000 education improvement program into one funding pool of about $2 billion focused on teacher quality.

The seven Republicans said that putting the class-size money into the much broader Title VI program, as Mr. Jeffords has proposed, would not send a clear message about their commitment to teacher quality.

"TEA affords Republicans the opportunity to rally behind a comprehensive proposal to improve teacher quality while simultaneously eliminating the president's unauthorized, flawed class-size program," they wrote.

One Senate GOP aide, who requested anonymity, warned: "There is not Republican support behind this Jeffords bill." In fact, several Republicans are crafting a conservative alternative to Mr. Jeffords' approach that would offer a modified version of Straight A's.

Meanwhile, a Senate Democratic aide said that, "as a starting place, I don't think [the Jeffords plan is] terrible." But the aide said changes to the class-size program would not fly with Senate Democrats or the Clinton administration.

Joe Karpinski, the committee spokesman, stressed that Mr. Jeffords--who is considered one of the chamber's most liberal Republicans--would continue to work with his gop and Democratic colleagues to find common ground. "That's what this process is all about," Mr. Karpinski said.

The plan is silent on a number of contentious issues. For example, it does not mention whether the use of Title I aides would be restricted, nor does it discuss any new accountability provisions, both of which received considerable attention in legislation that passed the House last week.

As of late last week, no Senate committee action had been scheduled on the ESEA reauthorization.

Vol. 19, Issue 9, Pages 26,31

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