Spending Bill Breezes Through Senate Panel

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Sidestepping contentious school funding issues, the Senate Appropriations Committee quickly approved a $30.9 billion education spending plan last Thursday in what may have been a short-lived flourish of bipartisanship.

Many senators are waiting to introduce amendments to the fiscal 1999 funding measure when it reaches the Senate floor. That could take place as early as next week.

The controversial amendments that committee members have vowed to propose include language to allow funding for same-sex classrooms in public schools and greater leeway in disciplining disruptive disabled students.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the Republican from Alaska who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said last week that he is working with the Senate Budget Committee to find additional funding for the bill. But he said he did not know how much--or when--any surplus dollars would be available.

Sen. Ted Stevens

He also said he doubted that the bill, which passed his committee on a voice vote, could be finished by the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Tight Spending Caps

Appropriators in both the House and the Senate say they are keeping within the tight spending caps set in last year's balanced-budget agreement. Neither the House plan, which passed through committee in July, nor the Senate measure includes funding for Clinton administration proposals on school construction, literacy, hiring of new teachers, or class-size reduction. Leaders of both chambers have criticized President Clinton for banking his new initiatives on uncertain revenue sources, including the still-uncertain settlement of a massive lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers.

Many observers are speculating that Mr. Clinton's problems stemming from the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal may weaken his ability to negotiate with Republicans on spending. Mr. Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley offered half-hearted praise for the Senate measure.

"I am pleased that a bipartisan group of senators voted to reject parts of the extreme House Republican education and training budget and make many--but not all--of the critical investments in our future," Mr. Clinton said in a statement released during his visit to Moscow.

Richard W. Riley

"Clearly, the priorities outlined in this Senate bill respond to the president's call for meaningful improvements in education and are much more in line with the needs of our nation's students, parents, teachers, and schools," Mr. Riley said in a separate statement.

Like its more controversial House counterpart--which is scheduled for a floor vote shortly after the House returns from its August recess on Sept. 9--the Senate bill contains language that would prohibit funding for the field-testing, administration, or implementation of voluntary new national tests Mr. Clinton has proposed. It would, however, allow the National Assessment Governing Board to continue its work and pilot a test next March.

The Senate bill would allot $151 million to a new initiative to combat school violence and would fund school-to-work programs at $125 million, the president's requested level. The measure would give a $500 million, or 11 percent, increase to special education programs, bringing the total funding for all programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to $5.1 billion, and a $300 million, or 4 percent, increase to Title 1, for a total of $7.68 billion in formula grants. But other programs would see far smaller increases, if any.

The head of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based coalition of education groups, said his group was pleased the Senate bill did not include many cuts proposed in the House measure. "On the other hand, it doesn't provide new investments in a whole raft of programs where there's a need," said Edward R. Kealy, the group's executive director.

In drafting a fiscal 1999 education spending bill, House leaders turned to conservative members who had felt slighted in previous years' budget discussions. The strategy yielded a highly contentious bill with few spending increases. ("House Spending Bill Takes Conservative Line," Aug. 5, 1998.)

In the Senate, discord could arise once an appropriations bill reaches the floor for a vote by the full chamber. For instance, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., has said he plans to offer amendments that would give administrators more leeway in suspending and removing disruptive disabled students from classrooms.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 34

Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Spending Bill Breezes Through Senate Panel
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