E.S.E.A. Compromise Clears House Committee

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Democrats and Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee, as well as the Clinton Administration, each got a little of what they wanted last week when the panel approved a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

After a week of negotiations, the interested parties cut a deal that would retain the Chapter 2 block grant and more narrowly target some Chapter 1 funds to the poorest students.

"It's a much better compromise than we expected,'' Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said. "Right now, it's a victory for everybody.''

The Administration, which had proposed eliminating Chapter 2, signed off on a provision retaining it in exchange for greater targeting in the Chapter 1 funding formula, a Clinton proposal that most Republicans and some Democrats on the committee opposed.

The new formula targets significantly less than the Administration originally proposed, but Mr. Smith professed to be pleased.

"I'm smiling,'' he said.

Forty-one members of the committee voted for the compromise formula. Only Rep. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, voted against it.

The bill, HR 6, now goes to the House floor. The Senate is expected to begin hearings on a companion measure soon.

It is unclear how much total spending the bill would authorize, but it covers the majority of federal precollegiate-education programs, currently authorized at about $10 billion.

The Chapter 1 formula approved by the committee is similar to one approved earlier this month by the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1994.)

Compromise Formula

The formula would guarantee all districts the amount of Chapter 1 funds they currently receive, provided that appropriations do not decrease. But money appropriated beyond the fiscal 1994 level of $6.4 billion would be distributed according to a system that provides more money to districts with higher concentrations of poor children.

One change made at the committee level at the behest of the Administration would allow districts to measure poverty based on absolute numbers of poor children rather than on poverty rates. It would benefit poor children in cities, Mr. Smith said.

Under the compromise, children would be weighted at 1.0 if their districts have a poverty rate of 14.265 percent or less, or if there are fewer than 575 poor students in a district.

The weights--and funding eligibility--would gradually increase with poverty rates or numbers of poor children. In districts with a rate of at least 36.538 percent or a total of 42,000 poor children, each child above that threshold would be weighted at 3.0. The maximum weight would have been 1.5 under the subcommittee version, giving a lesser advantage to districts with especially high poverty rates.

HR 6 would also require the use of district-level poverty data, when available, and direct the Census Bureau to update poverty figures every two years.

Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the panel, said he supports the idea of more narrowly targeting Chapter 1 funds, but believes it is not viable politically.

"You can talk philosophy all you want, and we do that a lot in this committee, but philosophy doesn't buy you votes out there on the floor,'' he said. "We're doing what we believe will get us a bill.''

Mr. Smith said, however, that the Administration will continue to press lawmakers to further target the money, an effort he said President Clinton might be personally involved in.

Chapter 2 Revived

Mr. Smith also said the Administration would stick by its original proposal and urge the Senate to drop Chapter 2.

An amendment reinstating Chapter 2 passed the House panel by a voice vote.

The popular block-grant program, authorized at $435 million, would share a new Title II with an expanded version of the Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program, which would be authorized to provide $700 million for professional-development programs in multiple disciplines.

Lawmakers also added a provision that would create a demonstration-grant program under Chapter 2 to support "21st-century schools'' that serve learners of all ages and provide other social services, acting as community-resource centers.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the committee's ranking Republican, urged his Democratic counterparts to fight for funding Chapter 2--which the Administration has not included in its proposed fiscal 1995 budget--when it comes before the Appropriations Committee.

Although Democrats agreed to retain Chapter 2 at least partially in an effort to win Republican votes, the committee's Republicans still declined to vote for final passage of HR 6.

They cited an amendment that would require states applying for Chapter 1 grants to set "opportunity to learn'' standards for the services schools provide, an idea Republicans have opposed as an intrusion into local authority over schools. The Administration's proposal and the subcommittee bill would have required states to establish standards for curriculum content and student performance.

The mandates would, in effect, force states to participate in the Administration's Goals 2000 education-reform strategy, which calls on the states to set the same three types of standards.

Content and performance standards developed by states solely to continue their flow of Chapter 1 dollars--not in the context of participation in Goals 2000--would be expected to be "of the highest quality,'' Mr. Smith said in an interview, and theoretically applicable to all students.

He fears, however, that requiring "opportunity'' standards from states that do not participate in Goals 2000 would lead to special standards solely for Chapter 1 students.

Republicans also complained about the addition of several new categorical programs to the bill.

They include a school-construction loan program, authorized at $200 million; an education-technology grant program, to be run by a new office of educational technology in the Education Department, authorized at $350 million; and demonstration programs for urban and rural education, authorized at $250 million.

Another Blow for N.A.G.B.

In other action, the committee:

  • Rejected, on a 24-to-19 vote, an amendment to retain the National Assessment Governing Board, which the subcommittee targeted for abolition. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)
  • Approved HR 2455, the proposed "safe schools act,'' and HR 3453, which would reauthorize the federal drug-education program as the "safe and drug-free schools and communities act.'' HR 2455 was adopted by the Senate last week; HR 3453 was added as Title IV of the E.S.E.A. bill.
  • Adopted a provision that would make it easier for schools receiving Chapter 1 dollars to operate schoolwide projects, in which funds are used to upgrade a whole school, rather than specifically for eligible students. Currently, only schools where at least 75 percent of the students are poor qualify; HR 6 would drop the threshold to 65 percent in 1995-96 and 60 percent in 1996-97. The Administration had proposed gradually reducing the threshold to 50 percent.
  • Adopted an Administration proposal to authorize charter-schools grants for school districts, a provision that was not included in the version of HR 6 approved by the subcommittee.
  • Amended a provision that would have barred federal funding for schools that do not establish a policy suspending for a year students who carry guns to school. The new language would simply require schools to establish a policy for dealing with students who bring guns to school.

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