Congress Likely To Ponder Federal Role in Education

By Mark Pitsch — November 16, 1994 7 min read
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The 104th Congress will convene in January with Republican majorities in both chambers for the first time in 40 years.

The historic realignment will radically alter the prospects for education legislation and may curtail the federal role in setting education policy, which has taken on new importance under the Clinton Administration.

Indeed, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who is in line to become the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said last week that he will embark on a comprehensive analysis of the federal role and federal programs.

“There will be a major rethinking of what our role should be, but I think the first thing we should do is find out where we are and what we have done,” said Mr. Goodling, a 20-year veteran of the House who has been the ranking Republican on the education panel since 1989.

“There certainly will be less involvement from the federal government” under a Republican-controlled Congress, said Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., who will likely chair the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities.

Come January, Republicans will have 53 members in the Senate and at least 228 members in the House. A few House seats were undecided late last week.

In other power shifts on committees, Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., is slated to chair the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee; Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., will likely become the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., will probably become the chairman of the counterpart House appropriations panel.

Such assignments are subject to votes when the House and Senate G.O.P. caucuses meet next month.

Prognosticators had long foreseen G.O.P. gains in last week’s midterm elections, but few had expected the breadth of the Republican victory. In the 103rd Congress, Democrats controlled both chambers, with 56 members in the 100-member Senate and 256 members in the 435-member House.

“We’ve re-created politics in Washington with this election,” said Charles O. Jones, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Most notably, he said, the examination of federal programs that Mr. Goodling suggested is likely to occur in many areas.

Tied to that, Mr. Jones said, will be internal reforms--revamping the committee structure and applying federal laws to Congress itself, for example--that some Republicans campaigned on.

President Clinton also was elected on such a theme, he said, but failed to carry through.

“That’s a really big message from this election,” Mr. Jones said.

Most policy implications, however, are unclear, he said.

“Following an election like this, you can’t automatically say what’s going to happen,” Mr. Jones said. “All the connectors in policymaking between the executive and Congress have come loose, and they need to be plugged in again.”

Pledges of Cooperation

President Clinton took partial blame for his party’s losses, and pledged to work with Republicans.

“What I think they [the voters] said is they still don’t like what they see when they watch us working here,” the President said at a news conference. “They still haven’t felt the positive results of things that have been done here that they agree with when they hear about them.”

Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who is expected to be the next Speaker of the House, and Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the likely Senate majority leader, also pledged cooperation.

So did Administration officials, who noted that the spate of education bills passed over the last two years all received some measure of bipartisan support.

In addition, the Republicans who are in line to chair education panels are considered moderates. (See related story )

But observers say Republicans will likely attempt to advance such controversial proposals as programs allowing parents to use public funding to pay private school tuition and efforts to support privatization in schools.

(See education bills this year--such as school prayer and sex education--will likely surface again with more force.

“The social issues are high-profile things,” said Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, adding that Republicans “may want to move them” early in the session.

Indeed, The Washington Post reported last week that Mr. Gingrich had pledged a House vote by next July on a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools.

Shifting Tactics

While Democrats have for years used the powers of the majority party to stifle such proposals procedurally, the new political climate could turn the tables and force them to turn to weapons of the minority, such as Senate filibusters. The Republicans may also force Mr. Clinton to veto education bills.

Many education advocates also fear the realignment’s implications for the budget process, as Republicans have historically favored a high level of defense funding and cuts in domestic spending.

However, Mr. Jeffords, who has proposed adding 1 percent of the federal budget annually to education programs, said he would continue to push for increased education spending--as long as the programs withstand scrutiny.

“The question is: Are we serious about Goals 2000? And if we’re serious about it,” the school-reform strategy should receive sufficient financial support, he said.

Mr. Goodling’s effort to raise that sort of question would come just months after the enactment of a series of bills--chiefly the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which reauthorizes most K-12 programs--that were designed as catalysts for standards-driven school reforms at the state and local levels.

The Clinton Administration and other proponents see the bills as bipartisan efforts to make the federal government a partner in reform. But opponents--as well as some Republicans who supported the bills--say the measures could lead to the federal government’s usurping local control.

Mr. Goodling said he plans to review education laws to insure that state and local governments have flexibility in how they spend federal money, that the laws do not impose excessive federal mandates, and that they support high-quality programs.

“You can be assured that we will make very, very sure that [standards-setting provisions] are not mandates,” said Mr. Goodling.

Mr. Goodling said he would also like to revisit the Administration’s direct-lending program, under which the government makes college loans directly to students rather than through private lenders, and Title I of the E.S.E.A., which includes a funding formula Mr. Goodling is unhappy with.

“There’s going to be a heck of a lot to do, and if we can improve any of the laws in any major ways, that will be great,” said Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith.

But if Congress seeks to make changes to the E.S.E.A. so soon after reauthorization, Mr. Smith said, “you end up jerking around a lot of local schools and states.”

Likely Committee Leaders

With the Republican takeover of the Senate and House in last week’s midterm elections, education-related committees and subcommittees will have new chairmen and ranking minority members in the 104th Congress. Though the positions will be determined when party caucuses meet next month, the list below shows the lawmakers with the most seniority and thus the most likely chance of assuming a chairmanship or ranking membership. New rules for House Republicans will prevent them from chairing more than one committee or subcommittee.

Senate Panels

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Chairman: Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Ranking member: Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Budget Committee Chairman: Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M. Ranking member: Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C.

Labor and Human Resources Committee Chairman: Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan. Ranking member: Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs, and Alcoholism Chairman: Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind. Ranking member: Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn.

Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities Chairman: James M. Jeffords, R-Vt. Ranking member: Claiborne Pell, D-R.I.

Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Employment and Productivity Chairman: Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. Ranking member: Paul Simon, D-Ill.

Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Disability Policy Chairman: Orrin Hatch, R-Utah Ranking member: Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

House Panels

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Chairman: John Porter, R-Ill. Ranking member: David R. Obey, D-Wis.

Budget Committee Chairman: John R. Kasich, R-Ohio Ranking member: Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn.

Education and Labor Committee Chairman: Bill Goodling, R-Pa. Ranking member: William L. Clay, D-Mo.

Education and Labor Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Chairman: Mr. Goodling has seniority, but rules require a different chairman. Ranking member: Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich.

Education and Labor Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education and Training Chairman: Tom Petri, R-Wis. Ranking member: Pat Williams, D-Mont.

Education and Labor Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights Chairman: Cass Ballenger, R-N.C. Ranking member: Major R. Owens, D-N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 1994 edition of Education Week as Congress Likely To Ponder Federal Role in Education


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