GOP Targets Government Waste, Bureaucracy in Schools Spending

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By Joetta L. Sack


House Republicans say they have found evidence of what works in public education: parental involvement, basic academics, and sending more money to the classroom instead of bureaucracies.

Those findings, which echo the GOP education agenda, will be used to shape federal education spending this year, said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and other Republicans who gathered in the Capitol late last week.

"We cannot ask the American people to spend more on education until we do a better job with what we have now," said Mr. Hoekstra, who heads the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The panel held field hearings in 16 cities this year as part of its "Education at a Crossroads" project to find both wasteful and successful programs in public education. ("Critics Say Clinton Pitch Misses Political Point," March 12, 1997.)

"This project is going to have a very dramatic impact on what we spend money on," Mr. Gingrich said.

Democrats quickly gathered at their own news conference to respond, saying that the Republicans were trying to undermine much-needed federal education programs and the new budget deal made with President Clinton. ("Clinton-Hill Accord Would Hike Ed. Funding," in This Week's News.)

"They are trying to lay the foundation so they can once again engage in cutting resources to American classrooms," charged Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "They are reeling from the very positive agenda set forth by President Clinton" in the budget agreement.

War of Words

In a May 8 letter, the Republican leaders asked Mr. Clinton to join with the Republican education committee members to find ways to cut bureaucracy in federal education programs.

Later that day, Mr. Hoekstra's subcommittee held a hearing on how to drive dollars to the classroom and eliminate bureaucracy. Some conservative education groups have claimed that states and local districts keep large sums of federal funds for administrative costs.

A statement released by House Democrats, though, said that most federal statutes limit administrative expenses to 5 percent of the total funding.

Flanked by piles of paper to represent the federal bureaucracy, Mr. Hoekstra said his subcommittee had identified more than 760 federal education programs.

Sixty percent of those programs are not coordinated by the Department of Education, he said. But Democrats pointed out that some programs--such as Federal Aviation Authority training for air-traffic controllers--are hardly related to K-12 education, and that many of the programs are no longer funded.

Mr. Hoekstra singled out for criticism a few federal efforts, including a 109-page curriculum called "A Concrete Experience" developed for the cement industry that he said wasted federal dollars.

To prove that the field hearings were not all about bad news, Mr. Hoekstra released a list of schools and districts that he called reform models, many with distinctive programs that boosted students' standardized-test scores.

Meanwhile, some Democrats on the House education committee could not resist the opportunity to point out the contrast between the bickering at the news conferences and the bipartisan spirit that helped the House and Senate education committees approve legislation reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act just one day earlier. (See "IDEA Reauthorization Speeds Through Committees," in This Week's News.)

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