Lobbyists Submit Legislative Bids For Education Act

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WASHINGTON--Education organizations sent an array of proposals and wish lists to Capitol Hill last week as part of their first formal efforts to influence the upcoming Congressional reauthorization of elementary-and-secondary-education programs.

Among the proposals is a document signed by 18 education groups in an attempt to present a united front.

Many groups involved in negotiations to draft the document declined to sign on, however, due primarily to concerns about a proposal to allow the merger of funds from multiple programs and to fears that state officials would have too much authority over the process.

The ambitious scope of the proposals reflects education advocates' anticipation of a year they think could bring a profound re-examination of the federal role in education--in part because of the incoming Clinton Administration and in part because of the legislative window of opportunity.

"This is going to be the most substantial year in terms of elementary-and-secondary-education legislation in at least a decade, and perhaps since 1964-65,'' Michael Edwards, the manager of Congressional relations for the National Education Association, said, referring to the era when the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted under President Johnson.

The most recent version of the E.S.E.A., the Hawkins-Stafford Amendments, is due for renewal next year, and the House Education and Labor Committee asked education groups to submit their ideas last week.

More than a dozen did, and others are expected to follow.

Consolidation of Funds

One theme that recurred in several of the proposals is the idea of allowing the consolidation of separate programs that serve similar student populations.

Congress has been debating the concept for several years, and it was avidly supported by the Bush Administration.

But some Democrats are leery of allowing mergers that could reduce services for the disadvantaged populations at which categorical programs are aimed.

The statement of the coalition, loosely labeled the "Reauthorization of Hawkins-Stafford Consortium,'' discusses organizing programs into "clusters,'' allowing state or local education officials to consolidate federal funds from programs in a cluster.

For example, Chapter 1 would be clustered with other programs serving disadvantaged students, such as bilingual-, migrant-, and immigrant-education programs.

State and local officials would develop plans for using the funds that would set out how target populations would be served.

Accountability efforts would shift from tracking the use of funds to measuring the achievement of target groups.

The consortium's plan generally tracks a more detailed version included in the proposal of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the council, was, by all accounts, a driving force behind the consortium.

Mr. Ambach hailed the unified proposal as an "unprecedented'' agreement among some 25 education groups in a meeting with reporters last week, although only 18 ultimately signed on.

Concern Over Authority

While the consortium document does not include details, the chiefs' plan would give state officials the authority to consolidate programs at the state level, and to decide whether districts could do so in the absence of state consolidation.

"Locals wouldn't have any way out if they didn't agree,'' one lobbyist said. "There was a great deal of concern about how the proposal would be represented on the Hill.''

Some lobbyists specifically said groups representing local educators were leery of having Mr. Ambach, who represents state interests, speaking for them.

The N.E.A., the American Association of School Administrators, and the Council of the Great City Schools were among the groups that declined to sign.

The American Federation of Teachers did sign, but Gregory A. Humphrey, the A.F.T.'s director of legislation, said the union's backing does not imply wholesale enthusiasm.

"It's not what we liked about it; it's that we didn't find anything we strongly objected to, to tell you the truth,'' Mr. Humphrey said, adding that he thought a united statement would give education groups "a greater amount of leverage.''

Two groups that did sign qualified their support for program mergers in their own plans.

The National School Boards Association said it supports allowing flexibility at the local level, but not giving "decisionmaking authority'' to state officials.

The National Association of State Boards of Education said "the organization of resources should be planned first at the local level.''

Also signing the consortium document were the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, the Association of School Business Officials, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Association for the Advancement of International Education, the College Board, and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International.

Also, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Pupil Services Administrators, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Community Education Association, the National Middle Schools Association, and the National School Public Relations Association.

Other Themes

Most other elements of the consortium's proposal were echoed in the proposals of individual organizations, including:

  • General aid. Several groups--notably the N.E.A. and the N.S.B.A.--called for a new program of general federal aid to schools.
  • Comprehensive services. Many groups proposed support for the delivery of a range of social services to children at schools, either through Chapter 1 or a separate program.
  • Broad support for education reform. The consortium "clustering'' plan, as well as the chiefs' proposal, envisions a cluster that includes programs that aim to improve the entire education system, such as the Chapter 2 block grant and the Eisenhower mathematics and science program.

The chiefs also call for enactment of legislation, which died in the last Congress, to support the development of state and local reform plans.

The Council of the Great City Schools proposed replacing Chapter 2 with something similar, while the N.S.B.A. proposed refocusing Chapter 2 to become a reform vehicle.

  • School-to-work programs. The consortium, as well as several individual plans, endorsed President-elect Clinton's pledge to enact programs aiding students' transition to the workforce, including a national youth-apprenticeship program.

Increased aid for urban and rural schools, either through Chapter 1 or a new program, was another common theme. Also frequently mentioned were new programs supporting schools' acquisition of technology, federal aid to repair school buildings, and increased support for bilingual education.

Chapter 1 Proposals

Many of the recommendations are for changes in Chapter 1, the largest federal program aiding elementary and secondary schools.

The consortium plan, as well as several others, called for funding a Chapter 1 program for high school students that has never been funded.

Most of the groups proposed making more schools eligible to operate schoolwide projects under Chapter 1, in which funds are used to improve the school as a whole, rather than focused only on eligible children. The A.A.S.A. proposed allowing schools to concentrate Chapter 1 children and funds in particular classrooms.

Observers agree that Congress is likely to make significant changes in the program-improvement process, which requires schools to submit improvement plans, and eventually accept state intervention, if their Chapter 1 students do not evidence sufficient progress. Educators say the process is too dependent on standardized tests and allows schools that perform poorly to slip by without making major changes.

The A.A.S.A. proposed what Nick Penning, its director of legislation, termed "continuous program improvement.'' Under the A.A.S.A. plan, all Chapter 1 districts would establish assessment programs and continually update improvement plans.

The C.C.S.S.O. would require multiple assessments to measure the performance of Chapter 1 students and schools, and specifically bar the use of standardized tests earlier than 3rd grade. All Chapter 1 schools would maintain improvement plans, and failing programs would participate in a formal process for two years rather than one.

The Council of the Great City Schools proposed that eligibility for Chapter 1 be based solely on poverty criteria, allowing schools to serve students who are not in the lowest achievement groups.

Currently, districts and schools are eligible for the program based on the number of poor children they serve, while schools select children based on low achievement.

Commission Report Due

An independent commission studying Chapter 1, which is due to release its recommendations this week, will propose a much more radical restructuring. According to a draft obtained last week, the panel recommends eliminating the concept of individual child eligibility, and giving schools with the highest concentrations of poor children more money per child.

The panel also calls for an assessment process tied to a broader system of standards for curriculum content, student performance, and school services. States would be required to set those standards, and to insure comparability of basic services across school districts.

Vol. 12, Issue 14

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