Debate on Curricular Mandates Marks Drug-Bill Vote

By Ellen Flax — November 15, 1989 3 min read

Washington--After a heated debate over the federal government’s role in curricular matters, the House Education and Labor Committee decided to follow the Senate’s lead and voted to require schools to have anti-drug programs and policies as a prerequisite to receiving federal funds.

The bill, which is expected to pass the full House this week, would also direct more drug-education money to poorer districts and encourage states to pass legislation creating drug-free school zones.

Some committee members criticized the measure, which was adopted by a vote of 32 to 3, as improperly allowing the federal government to dictate curriculum to local districts.

Under the bill, schools that do not certify to state officials by Oct. 1, 1990, that they have anti-drug education programs and policies could lose all federal funding. The Secretary of Education is permitted to grant exemptions until April 1, 1991.

Earlier this month, the House adopted a bill that would boost spending on drug education by $183.5 million. In October, the Senate agreed to increase drug-education funding by the same amount.

In September, the Senate voted to amend the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986 to require schools to implement tough anti-drug policies and comprehensive drug-education programs as a prerequisite to receiving federal funds. The Senate passed a slightly weaker version of this requirement, in a second drug bill, in October. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1989.)

Congressional aides said they did not know whether the two chambers would begin conference negotiations on the measures before Nov. 20, when the Congress is scheduled to recess until January.

The initial version of the House bill, which was introduced by the committee’s chairman, Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California,el10ldid not require schools to have anti-drug policies as a prerequisite to receiving federal money.

But at last week’s hearing, Representative William F. Goodling of Pennsylvania, the committee’s ranking Republican member, offered an amendment containing language almost identical to the provisions in the weaker Senate bill.

The amendment would require schools to have “age-appropriate, developmentally based drug and alcohol education and prevention programs” to receive federal aid.

Critics of the amendment argued that it would force the Secretary of Education to decide which local curricula were acceptable and which were not.

Such an approach, they said, would violate statutes that prohibit the federal government from dictating local curricula.

“I’m not yet ready, Mr. Chairman, to go back on the commitment we made as part of a quid pro quo to get the federal government into the education business,” said Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana. “We guaranteed that local control of schools at the state and local level would be preserved.”

“It seems to me,” he added, “that this is a fairly dangerous precedent, this ‘Big Brother is watching you’ amendment.”

Other members said they were uncomfortable with the provision because it would cause schools to lose all federal funds, not just drug-education money, if they did not comply.

Supporters of the provision said they did not interpret the amendment’s language as mandating a federal curriculum.

The provision was adopted after it was amended to prohibit a federal role in curriculum development.

Committee aides said the amendment was not intended to weaken the drug-education and policy requirement. But some acknowledged that, because the language of the provision and the amendment were potentially contradictory, the Education Department’s ability to enforce the policy could be limited.

The committee’s bill would also alter the funding formula of the drug-free schools law to give a greater share to states that have larger Chapter 1 enrollments. States would also be encouraged to create drug-free school zones within two years of the law’s passage.

In addition, the bill would allow smaller districts to pool their anti-drug aid; encourage schools to hire drug counselors; allow schools to combine the money they receive from several federal programs for anti-drug activities; and ensure that private schools receive their share of funds when local public schools do not apply to state authorities for funding.

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 1989 edition of Education Week as Debate on Curricular Mandates Marks Drug-Bill Vote