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Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as GOP Plan Would Give States More Spending Flexibility

GOP Plan Would Give States More Spending Flexibility

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The chairman of the House education committee released a proposal late last week that would allow states and school districts to transfer money between several big-ticket programs contained in the main federal K-12 law.

That idea is sure to spark controversy with Democrats when committee members convene this week to take up the final piece of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. The pending legislation, HR 4141, is one in a series of ESEA bills the House has dealt with since last year. It would authorize $2.4 billion in federal spending, including safe-schools and technology programs.

"I continue to believe that state and local educational agencies, along with parents, are in a better position than we are in Washington to determine how best to use federal funds to help students improve their academic achievement," Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a prepared statement.

But Scott Fleming, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for legislation and congressional affairs, argued that going beyond the spending-flexibility measures already permitted in the 1994 ESEA reauthorization "runs a very serious risk."

"The secretary thinks it's very important that we have identifiable national priorities," he said.

At press time, Mr. Fleming said he could not comment on more specific aspects of the bill because he had not seen the final version.

Shifting Funds

Mr. Goodling's proposal, known as the Education OPTIONS bill—short for Opportunities to Protect and Invest in Our Nation's Students—contains a variety of federal programs, including an expanded safe-schools initiative that would now include after-school money; Title VI block grants; technology provisions; the charter school initiative; and the Fund for the Improvement of Education, a catch-all section of the ESEA that includes the comprehensive-school-reform program and a variety of smaller initiatives.

The bill would allow states and districts to transfer funds between some of those programs, as well as the Teacher Empowerment Act and the emergency immigrant-education program, which were both approved in other ESEA legislation passed by the House last year. All told, authorized funding for the programs totals roughly $4 billion.

In addition to shifting money between those programs, a state or district could pour funds into the Title I program for disadvantaged students. A school district would need state approval to transfer more than 30 percent of the funds from one program.

A House Democratic aide who had not yet seen details of the bill said the transferability provision was especially troubling because aid could be moved, for example, from technology and safe-schools programs to the Title VI block grant, which allows money to be used for almost any educational purpose.

"There's no accountability, no focus," the aide argued.

The proposal to merge the safe-schools and after-school programs is among the other aspects of the legislation expected to prompt debate.

"I think it'll be unacceptable" for a variety of reasons, the Democratic aide said.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 23

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