Next Stop for Goals 2000 Bill: House-Senate Conference

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In a strong bipartisan showing, the Senate last week approved its version of the Clinton Administration's education-reform bill, the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act.''

The 71-to-25 vote on S 1150 sets up a conference with the House, which passed its version of the legislation, HR 1804, last fall.

Lobbyists, Administration officials, and Congressional aides said they expect the most contentious issue in the conference committee to be how strong the measure's provisions requiring states and districts to set educational standards should be, especially any mandate on "opportunity to learn'' standards.

"I don't think there are that many big differences, but the ones that are there are big,'' said an aide to Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
HR 1804 authorizes $393 million for state reform grants. To participate, a state would have to submit a reform plan that provides for the setting of high standards for curriculum content and student performance, as well as opportunity-to-learn standards, which are to define conditions needed in a school to foster high-achieving students.

Opponents fear those provisions would lead to federal mandates on curriculum or how districts and schools use their money.

S 1150, meanwhile, would authorize $400 million in grants to states for reform efforts, but would not require them to set standards, although that would be an option for states. Instead, S 1150 requires only that a state submit a plan outlining how it aims to boost student performance.

'Make or Break' Issue

Proponents of "opportunity'' standards had planned to offer an amendment to S 1150 that would have required states to set them. But they withdrew it when the Senate agreed to allow the Secretary of Education to use Goals 2000 money to make technical-assistance grants to states studying school-finance equalization.

Since Congress has set aside $105 million for Goals 2000 grants in 1994 should it approve the legislation by April 1, lawmakers are hoping for a speedy conference.

But that is far from certain.

Patty Sullivan, a senior policy analyst for the National Governors' Association, said the opportunity-to-learn standards, which the N.G.A. opposes, could "make or break this bill.''

She said that if those standards are required in the bill that emerges from the conference, it could prompt the Senate to abandon the measure. That scenario, Ms. Sullivan said, would play into the hands of House Democrats who are not enamored of the bill.

"We know we've got our work cut out for us as we approach conference,'' said Michael Cohen, a counselor to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, "but we've gotten this far because we've been able to pull people together in the House and in the Senate, and I suspect we can do that in conference.''

"The real question is: Is it possible to find the language in there that both the House and the Senate, as well as ourselves, can live with?'' Mr. Cohen said.

However, he said, the strength of the Senate and House votes leave "no doubt about the direction to move in.''

Both versions of the bill would codify the six national education goals, formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel, and establish two separate councils that would set model national standards for education and job training: the National Education Standards and Improvement Council and an occupational-skills-standards board.

NESIC would also certify education standards voluntarily submitted by states.

Both bills would add a seventh goal on teacher professional development; S 1150 would also add one on parental participation.

Neither bill would require state participation in Goals 2000. But the House Education and Labor Committee last week passed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, HR 6, that would make the flow of Chapter 1 dollars contingent upon a state's establishment of content, performance, and opportunity standards. (See story, page 17.)

Other Issues Raised

For procedural reasons, the Senate also attached to its goals bill legislation to create a new safe-schools program--which the House will consider as part of HR 6--and legislation to reauthorize the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement.

The O.E.R.I. bill must also be reconciled in a House-Senate conference with a companion measure the House passed last year. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

President Clinton's proposed budget for fiscal 1995 includes $700 million for Goals 2000.

Much of the debate in the Senate revolved around such issues as school prayer, parental choice, and crime and violence. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

It is unclear how amendments on those issues that were added to the bill will affect the conference.

"Most of [the amendments] were like saying, 'This is butter and there shall be no sugar in the butter.' Well, there wasn't any sugar in the butter anyway,'' the aide to Ms. Kassebaum said.

Among the several dozen changes considered, the Senate:

  • Rejected by a vote of 51 to 42 an amendment that would have provided $30 million for six school-choice demonstration programs;
  • Approved, 97 to 0, an amendment that would require the Secretary of Education to give six states broad authority to use federal education money in innovative ways, by waiving federal rules;
  • Approved by voice vote an amendment specifying that districts that hire private companies to run their schools remain eligible for federal aid; and
  • Approved by a voice vote an amendment that would require schools to suspend for one year students carrying weapons to school, or risk losing federal funding.

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