Senate Defeats Compromise Proposal For Reauthorization

By Erik W. Robelen — May 17, 2000 2 min read

The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a proposal last week that some moderate Democrats had hoped might break the partisan stalemate over reauthorizing the nation’s main K- 12 education law.

Deliberations may resume this week on legislation to reauthorize the $15 billion Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with no clear end in sight. At press time late last week, Senate leaders had not negotiated a timetable for wrapping up action on the ESEA after six days of deliberation, and lawmakers still had many additional amendments to offer.

The alternative ESEA proposal put forward by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and eight other so-called New Democrats would have consolidated a host of federal programs into five areas of funding, substantially increased spending levels, provided more targeting to disadvantaged students, and demanded heightened accountability from states and districts.

“I urge my fellow members of the Senate ... to look at our proposal with an open mind—nobody will like every part of it—and to see if there is enough here to form the basis of a bridge that a significant majority of us can walk across to achieve a bipartisan reauthorization,” Sen. Lieberman said upon introducing the amendment.

While both Republican and Democratic opponents offered some kind remarks for Mr. Lieberman’s plan, they ultimately voted it down, 84-13.

Passage in Question

As drafted, the current Republican ESEA bill is opposed by Democrats and faces a veto threat from President Clinton.

One of the most disputed provisions would allow a limited number of states to convert much of their federal aid into block grants in exchange for new accountability demands.

Meanwhile, a GOP amendment on teacher-related issues was approved unanimously last week. Among other provisions, it would seek to ensure that money under Title II of the bill could be used to address the shortage of “high quality” teachers, authorize a $50 million program to encourage midcareer professionals to take jobs in the classroom, and provide protection from liability to teachers who took “reasonable” actions to maintain classroom discipline.

One factor complicating Senate passage of the ESEA bill is a plan by Democrats to try to attach a package of gun-control measures to the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has warned members against offering such nongermane amendments, and efforts to force a debate on gun control could prompt him to pull the bill from the floor, observers say.

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as Senate Defeats Compromise Proposal For Reauthorization