Congress Poised To Pass Bill To Hike School Funding

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Congress was rushing to complete its education spending bill late last week after devising a plan on national tests.

Appropriators were poised to finish a fiscal 1998 education spending bill late last week and were considering working through the weekend in order to adjourn for their winter break.

The spending bill, which initially was due by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, became bogged down in debate over President Clinton's plan for new national reading and math tests and an amendment by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., that would have turned most federal education programs into block grants. The block grant proposal ultimately failed. ("Parties Take Up New Education Policy Debate," Oct. 8, 1997.)

Edward R. Kealy

Under the proposed 1998 appropriations plan circulated among congressional aides and education groups last week, discretionary programs within the Department of Education--those for which Congress sets spending levels--would receive $29.7 billion, a nearly $3.3 billion, or 12 percent, increase over fiscal 1997. Special education, Pell Grants, and educational technology would receive large boosts, and a new $120 million program would be carved out for "whole-school change" within schools receiving Title I funding.

"Overall, it is a good increase," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups. Mr. Kealy said the increases would help states and districts compensate for enrollment increases and inflation, as well as give more money for new spending on school programs. "Now we're starting to talk about real growth here," he said.

Reading, Special Education

The plan also would pay for a new literacy initiative, at $210 million, contingent on congressional authorization of such a program by April 1.

A literacy plan that would focus on teacher training and proven research, sponsored by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, was scheduled for a vote late last week. Congress also began debate on a bill to revamp the federal charter school law last Friday. ("GOP Tutoring Grants Inspire Concerns, Praise," Oct. 22, 1997.)

Myrna Mandlawitz

Under the spending plan, special education would increase by about $580 million, or 14.4 percent, to $4.6 billion. Of that total, special education state grants, which support school programs for students with disabilities, would receive $3.8 billion.

Myrna Mandlawitz, the special assistant for government relations for the National Association for State Directors of Special Education, said her members were pleased with the anticipated increase in state grants for special education. ("Proposed IDEA Rules Target Testing, Accountability," Oct. 29, 1997.)

Pell Grants for needy college students would receive a $1.4 billion boost, to $7.3 billion. Funding for the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund--which helps schools integrate technology into their curriculum--would increase by 113 percent, from $200 million to $425 million.

But a $100 million appropriation in the Senate bill was abandoned by a House-Senate conference committee, Mr. Kealy said.

D.C. Voucher Plan

Details of the District of Columbia appropriations bill were still being hashed out late last week, as the Senate prepared to pass its version of the spending bill for the nation's capital. ("House Passes D.C. Voucher Bill 203-202; Veto Threatened," Oct. 15, 1997.)

John Raffetto, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill would likely contain a voucher plan for low-income Washington students similar to one included in the House counterpart bill. But the voucher language would be fashioned in a way that would enable President Clinton, who opposes private school vouchers, to use his line-item veto to excise the plan, Mr. Raffetto added.

To save time, the House was likely last week to adopt the Senate's version of the bill, bypassing the need for a conference committee, Mr. Raffetto said. One way or another, the voucher provision is virtually certain to get shot down if it reaches the Oval Office.

Lawrence J. Haas, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said aides there had not decided whether to advise Mr. Clinton to veto the entire bill or use his line-item-veto power on the voucher program.

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