Bill To Push Block Grant For Education

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Key members of the House education committee are drafting legislation that would fold 11 federal education programs, including major initiatives such as Goals 2000, into a $1.4 billion block grant designed to spur reforms.

The proposal being designed by the panel's Republican leaders would share a central feature of the Clinton Administration's Goals 2000 strategy--a requirement that states and school districts adopt challenging academic-performance standards and assessments with which to measure students' progress toward meeting them.

The bill would also allow, for the first time, the use of federal education funds for vouch-er programs that include private schools.

The legislation, which is far from complete and will not be introduced until September, is intended to limit the federal government's role in education as appropriators curb spending on education programs, according to Congressional aides. But at the same time, they said, lawmakers want to use the leverage of federal aid to bolster state-based school reforms.

"We've recognized that the worst possible alternative here is to have the same old programs with less money," said Victor F. Klatt, the education coordinator for the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. "The idea is to try and reduce the federal role dramatically in standards, but still follow up on what states and localities are doing."

The bill would not go as far as HR 1883, legislation crafted by a group of House Republican freshmen that would abolish the Education Department, transfer a handful of programs to other agencies, and consolidate all other K-12 education programs into a $9 billion block grant. (See Education Week, 5/31/95.)

The House education panel has also begun working on a higher-education block grant.

The committee's K-12 plan would consolidate 11 programs, according to a draft summary. Authorized spending would be set at $1.4 billion, 10 percent less than was appropriated in fiscal 1995 for those programs, including rescissions.

They include the cornerstone of the Clinton Administration's school-reform strategy, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act; the existing block grant known as Chapter 2 until it was renamed last year; the Eisenhower Professional Development Program; and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program. (See related story .)

In addition, the proposal would eliminate outright 45 smaller programs that received a total of $173 million this year.

(See education and immigrant-education programs.

The two largest federal precollegiate programs, Title I compensatory education and special-education aid, would remain separate programs, as would impact aid, Indian education, education research and statistics efforts, and a handful of smaller programs.

Under the block-grant proposal, districts would have wide leeway in using the consolidated funds, which could be spent in any of the areas targeted by the broad array of programs it would replace.

Opposition to Vouchers

But the allowable uses of block-grant funding would also include school-choice programs that involve private schools, charter schools, and the hiring of private management firms.

Lawmakers may do this by adding to the list of consolidated programs a proposed school-choice demonstration program that would set aside $30 million from Title I. The demonstration proposal has been introduced as HR 1640. (See related story .)

House lawmakers plan to combat opposition to their proposal by tying the block-grant legislation to a bill(See Education Act. While the largest special-education program is permanently authorized, some educators fear that Congress might allow smaller I.D.E.A. programs to lapse if they become hostages in a legislative stalemate. (See related story

Vol. 14, Issue 41

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