House G.O.P. Panel Unveils Voucher Proposal

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Moderate House Republicans, aiming to break a "political gridlock" over the future of remedial education, have introduced a plan for restructuring the Chapter 1 program that abandons some controversial features of the Reagan Administration's voucher bill.

But the proposal (H R 5(09), known as the "children's options for intensive compensatory education act," or "CHOICE," would retain vouchers-redeemable at public or private schools,

The bill is designed to expand the choices of low-income parents, while better targeting services to those most in need, say its principal sponsors, Representatives Paul B. Henry of Michigan and Thomas E. Petri of Wisconsin.

The bill would require school districts to draft a three-year, "individualized- instructional plan" for each eligible student-an idea modeled on the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Parents would then decide whether supplementary services would be provided at the child's school or whether to use a voucher to buy services at another public or private institution.

A student's eligibility would be based on family income-tied to eligibility for federal nutrition subsidies and other public assistance-- rather than on residence in a school district with a high proportion of poor families, as Chapter 1 aid is now targeted. Districts would be required to rank eligible students according to educational need.

Recent studies of the $3.6-billion program show that "it fails to reach many of those most in need," while serving others who are deprived neither educationally nor economically, Mr. Henry said at a press briefing on the bill.

In an era of fiscal austerity, a "child-centered" approach would target scarce federal funds more efficiently and make the program more accountable, he said.

The House Wednesday Group, a caucus of moderate Republicans, developed the proposal as an alternative to the Education Department's "the equity and choice act," or "'TEACH," which met strong bipartisan resistance in the Congress.

Chapter 1 is up for reauthorization next year.

While vouchers are at the core of CHOICE, the bill features civil-rights safeguards that are not included in TEACH for children attending private schools.

This and other modifications make the Wednesday group proposal "far more palatable than the Administration's bill," according to Lynne Glassman, a federal-programs analyst for the National School Boards Association.

But the plan is unlikely to attract significant support within the education community, she predicted, because "the fine print says vouchers could go to pay the full cost of private-school tuition."

Mr. Henry stressed that the Wednesday Group proposal, is being offered now "for purposes of discussion" rather than as a finished legislative product.

The House Education and Labor Committee, which heard testimony on TEACH last winter, is unlikely to schedule hearings on CHOICE or any other Chapter 1 proposals in the waning days of the 99th Congress, a committee spokesman said.

Vol. 06, Issue 01, Page 16

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