Federal File

April 19, 2000 1 min read

By any other means?

Nearly all the national education groups have been united in opposing Republican plans to convert federal aid into block grants, a device they see as undermining the ability to set national priorities. But a new proposal has them divided over what the phrase “block grant” really means.

A GOP bill approved by the House education committee last week as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization process would allow states and districts to transfer funds among a select group of programs. The proposal has some in the K-12 community up in arms.

“Transferability would create a major backdoor block grant,” some 30 education and related organizations wrote in an April 4 letter to the committee. House Democrats and the Clinton administration also oppose transferability.

But the idea wasn’t cooked up by Republicans. It came from a handful of education groups representing mostly the interests of local districts, including the American Association of School Administrators and the Council of the Great City Schools.

“This is not a block grant, but merely a local flexibility mechanism,” those groups wrote in a March 10 letter to the committee asking it to pass such a measure. "[O]ne school district may have a pressing need to increase its educational technology capacity, while another district may benefit from an added concentration on student-to-student violence or gang-related activity.”

Program funds for school safety, after-school services, technology, emergency immigrant education, teacher quality, and Title VI block grants are eligible for transfer under the bill.

“The people who are involved in administering programs at the local level support it,” said Vic Klatt, the education policy coordinator for Republicans on the Education and the Workforce Committee. “They came to us, and we were more than happy to oblige.”

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week