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Published in Print: February 7, 2001, as Key House Democrat Offers $110 Billion Education Plan

Key House Democrat Offers $110 Billion Education Plan

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One week after President Bush and a group of centrist Democrats offered their plans for improving the nation's schools, a leading House Democrat upped the ante by proposing to increase federal spending on K-12 education by $110 billion over five years.

"I believe that we are now at a time in history when America has both the will and the wallet to improve public school education," Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said at a Jan. 31 press conference.

Like the plans proposed by Mr. Bush and the centrist Democrats, Mr. Miller's proposal would demand more accountability for student improvement. But it does not include several central provisions sought by the president, such as requiring annual testing in grades 3-8, consolidating federal programs, and providing students in persistently failing schools with vouchers that could be used to pay for tutoring or for public or private school costs elsewhere. ("Democrats, GOP Agree in Principle on Federal Role," Jan. 31, 2001.)

While Democrats insist that vouchers are a nonstarter, Rep. Miller signaled there may be some common ground on consolidation and testing.

"There is room to talk about consolidating education programs," Mr. Miller said. However, he and others cautioned that there are limits to how much they would compromise.

"The more it smells of block grants, the more wary we are," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., a co-author of the plan.

On Mr. Bush's plan to require that Title I schools test all 3rd through 8th graders each year, Mr. Miller said: "I happen to agree with that; some members don't."

Areas of Agreement

Reflecting a more liberal tilt than the plan from the centrist Democrats, the Miller-Kildee bill calls for a dramatic increase in federal spending on education. Among other provisions, it seeks to double spending under the Title I program for disadvantaged students, raising it over five years to more than $17 billion a year; to target more funding to disadvantaged areas; and to direct resources immediately to help failing schools.

Unlike the Bush plan, it would keep separate federal programs for class-size reduction, after-school initiatives, and safe and drug-free schools.

The White House doesn't plan to issue exact spending numbers until it submits the president's proposed fiscal 2002 budget later this month. But during the campaign, Mr. Bush promised to increase education spending—including both K-12 and higher education—by about $25 billion over five years.

Meanwhile, the education plan proposed by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and others in the centrist bloc known as New Democrats would step up K-12 spending by $35 billion over five years, as well as heighten accountability, increase targeting, and consolidate programs.

The Miller-Kildee plan would call on states to ensure that all teachers were fully qualified by 2005. It would also provide teachers with financial incentives, such as student-loan forgiveness and pay bonuses for those who agreed to teach in high-poverty schools.

Rep. Miller noted the significant areas of similarity with both President Bush's plan and the one proposed by the centrist Democrats. "All three [plans] share a great deal in common," he said.

Echoing that refrain, David Schnittger, a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the new chairman of the House education committee, said that while Republicans were still reviewing the Miller-Kildee bill, "we believe that on the most important things, there's more agreement than disagreement."

Vol. 20, Issue 21, Page 22

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