Undo School Programs, Heritage Urges

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An influential conservative think tank will release recommendations this week to undo what it calls "many of the harmful education programs of the last 30 years."

The Heritage Foundation will advocate eliminating many of the provisions in both the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It also wants to close down the federal Education Department within five years.

Its proposals are contained in a briefing book for new members of the Republican-controlled 104th Congress that it prepared at the request of Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who is set to become the next Speaker of the House.

A proposal to scrap the National Education Standards and Improvement Council could find support on Capitol Hill, key g.o.p. Congressional aides said last week.

The new Presidentially appointed panel, whose members have yet to be named, would help set voluntary national education standards. But Heritage maintains that the groups developing the standards are "politically controlled" and that nesic would "essentially serve as a 19-member national school board."

At least some of the other proposals also appear likely to find an audience among g.o.p. lawmakers. "They're just saying a lot of what House and Senate Republicans said when these bills were debated," one Congressional aide noted.

Aides said, however, that there is little interest in renewing the fight over the Education Department, whose abolition has been on the wish lists of many conservatives since its creation.

'Carries a Lot of Weight'

The Heritage report, "The New Member's Guide to the Issues," includes some 20 chapters on topics ranging from welfare reform to foreign policy. It will be used this week at an orientation for incoming Republican members of Congress that is expected to be widely attended. Heritage is co-sponsoring the seminar with Empower America, another Washington-based group.

In 1981, the Heritage Foundation produced a 3,000-page tome, "Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration," that became the blueprint for much of President Ronald Reagan's legislative agenda.

With the Republican takeover of Congress, the foundation is hoping its new report will be equally influential.

"I think the Heritage Foundation carries a lot of weight among the Congressional Republicans and, particularly, the younger ones," a Congressional aide said.

This is the first time that the g.o.p. has controlled both houses of Congress in 40 years, and its first stint in power since the advent of a major federal role in K-12 education. Republicans also gained control of 19 state legislatures and a majority of governorships.

"The dramatic shift in power both in Congress and in the states gives conservatives an unprecedented opportunity to undo many of the harmful education programs of the last 30 years," the foundation report argues. "To the extent that government should be involved in education, it is a matter for local and state government, not the federal government."

"Every single federal education program should be evaluated," said Allyson M. Tucker, the manager of the center for educational law and policy at Heritage and a co-author of the report's education chapter. "If the federal government is going to spend $30 billion in education, we have to make those programs more effective and, if it's impossible to make them more effective, they should be eliminated."

The Heritage Foundation is among the most prominent of the conservative organizations that see fresh opportunities to shape public policy. (See related story)

Heritage Proposals

Among its recommendations, the foundation seeks to:(See Education Department, with the goal of shutting it down within five years. Many of the funds and responsibilities would be transferred to the states.

  • Repeal most provisions of Goals 2000, under which states agree to set content and performance standards and draft reform plans in exchange for federal grants. Congress should turn the 1,000-page bill into a 10-page measure, says Heritage, that would simply provide money for education reform. Congress would then reduce funding over time, as state reforms are completed.

Heritage would also eliminate the National Education Goals Panel and the National Skills Standards Board, in addition to nesic. And it wants to do away with the existing application process for Goals 2000 funds, which is already streamlined in federal terms. Instead, states would send in a letter saying how they spent the money within the terms of the act.

  • Repeal major provisions of the e.s.e.a. This includes altering the Title I formula so that funds go to the neediest schools--something the Clinton Administration proposed unsuccessfully--and removing any requirement that states send plans for state standards and curriculum to the federal government.
  • Repeal the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees disabled students a "free, appropriate public education," as well as the National Service Trust and the direct-lending program for higher education. Under the latter program, the government makes loans to college students directly, rather than guaranteeing private loans.
  • Replace vocational-education and job-training programs, including the Administration's new school-to-work program, with a system that gives families the choice of whether they want their children to attend a school with a vocational element. Congress should leave these programs up to the states, Heritage argues.
  • Enact a "parent and student empowerment act." First introduced by Rep. Dick Armey, R-Tex., in 1993, it would provide federal matching grants to states to develop such reforms as school choice and model schools.

Views of Likely Chairmen

Some of the ideas appear to be in line with the thinking of the g.o.p.'s top education lawmakers.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the likely new chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has emphasized that he wants to review all federal education programs and insure "local control" of the schools. (See related story

Vol. 14, Issue 14

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