Republicans: Department Is Lagging on ESEA

By Joetta L. Sack — February 10, 1999 2 min read

The Clinton administration may be falling behind in the crucial task of drafting legislative language to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year.

The Department of Education does not expect to release its ESEA proposal until mid-March, although Congress began hearings on the reauthorization late last month. Some Washington education analysts say that’s bad timing, because Republicans will have finished their framework for the legislation without input from the administration.

“They better they get a bill up there soon–the longer they delay, the more they allow the action to get away from them,” said John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research group. Mr. Jennings was a longtime aide to Democrats on the House education committee

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley planned to testify on ESEA to the House and Senate education committees this week. But, last week, Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, warned Mr. Riley, that, first, the members of his committee want to see the final regulations to the controversial Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which were scheduled to be released last April but are still pending.

“We’re not going to talk about anything else unless he comes in with those regulations in hand,” Mr. Goodling said.

Moving Forward

Regardless, Education Department officals maintain that the ESEA proposal is on track.

For the past few months, department officals have met with representatives of key education groups, such as administrators’ associations and the teachers’ unions, to discuss the departments’s ESEA proposal.

“It’s going quite well,” said Michael Cohen, who served as President Clinton’s senior education adviser until last week, when he moved to the Education Department to work on Secretary Richard W. Riley’s staff. “Mid-March is not a long time from now, and it’s a pretty complicated piece of legislation.”

Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary of education, said that even though the proposal was not completed by the time Congress began holding hearings, the Clinton administration’s basic thinking on the main federal law in K-12 education will be available. “We put out a lot of ideas,” he said. Some worry the administration may be slowed by staff changed in its top ranks.

In addition to Mr. Cohen’s job change, Gerald Tirozzi, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, who is considered the Education Department’s top expert on ESEA, will leave next month to become the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

But the House Education and the Workforce Committee will not wait for the department’s proposal, said Vic Klatt, the committee’s education policy coordinator. “We have no choice but to go forward.”

Sally N. McConnell, the government-relations director for the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Alexandria, Va., said she was concerned that the administration’s proposal would become merely a counterpoint to proposals by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“What we had hoped would be avoided would be having the administration’s plan be in reaction to the Hill’s proposals,” she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 1999 edition of Education Week as Republicans: Department Is Lagging on ESEA