Short on Time, Congress Seeks Goals 2000 Accord

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As a March 25 deadline looms, House and Senate negotiators hope to meet this week to reconcile their different versions of the Clinton Administration's education-reform proposal.

At stake is $105 million that is to be distributed in the next school year under a grant program the bill would create to support state and local school-reform activities.

When Congress appropriated the funds last year, it did so on the condition that the proposed "goals 2000: educate America act'' is enacted by April 1. If the deadline is missed, the money will be applied to the longstanding shortfall in the Pell Grant program.

"Everybody said ... that April 1 was a satisfactory deadline,'' said an aide to Rep. William H. Natcher, D-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We're not even discussing any alternatives.''

Congress begins its Easter recess on March 25, so lawmakers must hammer out a compromise this week to have a realistic chance of passing the bill in time.

Some aides said that Congress "absolutely, positively'' will meet the deadline. Others say it is impossible, "even if we're in 100 percent agreement.''

Education Department officials are eager to launch the program.

"You might look back and, in the long run, say [meeting the deadline] wasn't that important, but we've got a lot of momentum right now--the President's really pushing education, the chief state school officers are ready to go, so it's important that we get that $105 million out there,'' Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said.

In addition to creating the grant program, the bill would codify the national education goals and formally authorize the National Education Goals Panel; create a panel to set occupational-skills standards; and establish a council that would set model standards for curricular content, student performance, and school services, and certify standards submitted by states.

House and Senate conferees will have to work out differences regarding a safe-schools program and a measure to reauthorize the Education Department's research branch, which were attached to the Goals 2000 bill. The research bills differ as to the amount of authority they would give to an independent, policy-setting board.

How Strong a Mandate?

But the primary task of the conferees will likely be resolving the issue of whether states will be required to set educational standards to participate in Goals 2000.

HR 1804 would require states to establish content, performance, and "opportunity to learn'' standards in order to receive grants.

S 1150, by contrast, asks states simply to establish a strategy for raising expectations, improving performance, and providing an opportunity to learn. States would not be required to set standards, but could choose to do so.

Many Republicans in both chambers oppose the idea of mandating standards, particularly opportunity standards, which are intended to measure school services.

However, opportunity standards appear to be the only element of the bill many House Democrats like. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

President Clinton may have given the Senate some leverage with a letter he sent this month to Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, the chairman of the National Governors' Association. The President told Mr. Campbell that the Administration would "support language on opportunity-to-learn issues in Goals 2000 consistent with the principles and framework of the Senate bill.''

This apparently means that the Administration will push for language making those standards optional, while requiring states to set content and performance standards. Mr. Clinton noted that his proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act did not include opportunity standards, and said "the same principles'' will guide the Administration's work on Goals 2000. At the same time, he reiterated his support for the other standards.

Vol. 13, Issue 25

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