D.C. Voucher Proposal Pulled From Senate
Lacking the votes to overcome a threatened Democratic-led filibuster, the Senate Republican leadership last week pulled legislation from the floor containing a school voucher experiment for the District of Columbia.
“It is an incredibly cynical act that is being pursued in the Senate by a minority,” Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said on the floor Sept. 30. “It is the parents and the kids who are being left behind today, who are being filibustered today, who are being strong-armed by the minority today.”
The Senate spending bill for the District of Columbia contains $13 million for a pilot voucher program in Washington, with preference given to children from low-income families at poor-performing schools. The House narrowly passed its own version with $10 million last month. It remained unclear last week when Republicans might bring the measure back to the floor.
“I think everyone knows that this bill, as long as this voucher issue is in here floating around, is not going to go very far,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the assistant minority leader.
Senators had been engaged in intermittent wrangling over the voucher plan in recent weeks.(“Senate Still Wrangling Over D.C. Voucher Plan,” Oct. 1, 2003).
—Erik W. Robelen
House Hearing Examines ‘Dangerous’ Definitions
Two Republican lawmakers sought last week to examine states’ implementation of a new federal mandate to identify any “persistently dangerous” schools.
“I find it interesting that 44 states ... did not identify any schools as persistently dangerous,” said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, in a prepared statement for a Sept. 29 field hearing in Denver of the House Subcommittee on Education Reform. “More incredulous was the finding that none of the public schools in the urban areas of Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, San Diego, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., were determined to be persistently dangerous. These findings raise some major concerns.”
Rep. Tom Osborne of Nebraska chaired the hearing.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, each state was required to come up with its own definition of “persistently dangerous,” and identify this past summer any schools that met the criteria. An Education Week survey found that 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, reported having no such schools. (“States Report Few Schools as Dangerous,” Sept. 24, 2003).
David B. Smith, the director of prevention initiatives at the Colorado Department of Education, noted that 20 schools in his state had met the criteria for one year, though none for a second year, as required for the label in Colorado. According to the Associated Press, he said at the hearing that schools had been mistakenly lumping all altercations under the “assaults/fights” category.
—Erik W. Robelen
U.S. Rejoins UNESCO After 20-Year Absence
The American flag was raised on the grounds of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris last week for the first time in nearly 20 years, as the United States officially rejoined the organization.
“We raise our flag to join the flags of 189 UNESCO member states in seeking the very best of our human hopes for liberty, dignity, and peace,” first lady Laura Bush said at the Sept. 29 ceremony.
The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 amid concerns that the organization was mismanaged and did not adequately support the democratic rights of freedom of expression and a free press, according to the Department of State. In September of last year, President Bush said that the United States would rejoin UNESCO because the organization had been reformed. (“Bush Decision to Rejoin UNESCO Applauded,” Sept. 25, 2002.)
The 58-year-old specialized agency of the United Nations seeks to alleviate poverty around the globe by promoting universal primary education, gender equity, responsible environmental policy, and economic development.
The United States spends more than $300 million a year on international elementary, secondary, and higher education initiatives.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Work on Budget Bills Continues Past Deadline
Once again, Congress has missed its deadline for completing work on spending bills for the Department of Education and several other federal agencies.
President Bush last week signed a so-called “continuing resolution” for fiscal 2004, which began Oct. 1, to keep the federal government running through the end of this month.
As of last week, no formal conference committee was scheduled for House and Senate lawmakers to reconcile differences between their competing versions of the massive spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. President Bush had signed only three of the 13 regular spending bills as of Oct. 1.
Both the House and the Senate have backed more spending for the Education Department than the $53.1 billion in discretionary funding Mr. Bush requested in February. The president’s plan would have kept spending about even with fiscal 2003. The House bill contains $55.4 billion; the Senate version would provide $55.8 billion.
—Erik W. Robelen