Moderate Democrats Aim To Restructure K-12 Programs

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Two moderate Democratic senators plan to unveil a major education bill that they hope will add momentum to the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and lead to a restructuring of federal K-12 programs.

Proposed by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, the Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention, and Responsibility Act, dubbed "The Three R's," could be introduced as early as next week.

But it has already attracted praise from groups ranging from the American Association of School Administrators to the Heritage Foundation.

"I've always thought that the Lieberman proposal would get serious consideration, ultimately," said Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the AASA. "It looks at things in a way that is halfway between where Republicans and Democrats are."

"It consolidates, it streamlines, it focuses education policy on academic achievement, and from that aspect, we think it's a great idea," added Nina Shokraii Rees, the education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, which has been a source of advice of conservative Republicans.

The proposal would consolidate about 40 federal education programs in an effort to advance five goals: closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers, helping immigrant children learn English, improving teacher quality, promoting public school choice, and encouraging innovation. It would aim to instill greater accountability by linking funding to specific state achievement goals; states would be monitored on their progress toward those goals and be rewarded or penalized accordingly.

It would authorize a $25 billion increase, over five years, in the Department of Education's $35.6 billion discretionary budget for programs aimed at disadvantaged children. The plan calls for raising funding for Title I by some 50 percent, to $12 billion. It also would authorize $3 billion for teacher-quality programs and $1 billion for English-acquisition programs, among other provisions.

The plan is based on proposals by the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist group chaired by Sen. Lieberman and formerly chaired by President Clinton. Last month, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Bayh, and seven other Democratic senators agreed to create a new coalition, similar to the so-called Blue Dogs coalition in the House, to advance moderate ideas; those senators either planning to co- sponsor the legislation or are considering doing so.

The White House's education advisor, Andrew Rotherham, was a key player in developing the ideas behind Mr. Lieberman's legislation. Mr. Rotherham is on leave from his job as the education policy analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the DLC.

Competing Versions

For weeks, Senate Republican leaders have been bogged down in trying to craft a compromise bill that would appeal to both conservative and moderate factions in their party.

Sen. James M. Jeffords, the moderate Vermont Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is expected to introduce a bill later this month that largely stays the course on ESEA programs, which were last reauthorized in 1994.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, chose to break down the ESEA reauthorization into smaller bills. The chamber passed three major portions of it last year and expects to finish the process this spring.

President Clinton also has offered an ESEA proposal, released last spring. His plan focuses on expanding some existing federal programs and adding accountability measures.

While Sen. Lieberman supports White House initiatives such as hiring 100,000 new teachers and spending more money on school construction, his staff says he wants to see a more radical rethinking of federal programs and the government's role in demanding accountability from states and school districts.

The message of the forthcoming bill is that "we are making a critical mistake if we say all we care about are these peripheral issues that we keep throwing money at," Dan Gerstein, an aide to Mr. Lieberman, said.

Aspects of Mr. Lieberman's bill bear a close resemblance to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's views on education. The Texas governor's campaign platform calls for adding school accountability measures to federal education programs and offering rewards to states that perform well.

But Joe Karpinski, the spokes-man for Republicans on the Senate's HELP Committee, said he doubted there would be enough support to restructure the ESEA as dramatically as Mr. Lieberman has proposed. Instead, Mr. Karpinski said, committee Republicans would likely propose significant changes within ESEA programs.

"We will have the same structure [for the legislation], as far as titles and the forms of those titles," he said.

Vol. 19, Issue 23, Page 24

Published in Print: February 16, 2000, as Moderate Democrats Aim To Restructure K-12 Programs
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