The House Education and the Workforce Committee overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan plan last week to reauthorize the $8 billion Title I program for disadvantaged students. The panel made only minor adjustments to the measure during four days of deliberations.
But the bipartisanship quickly dissipated as the committee went on to consider and approve--this time on a party-line vote-- separate Republican-backed legislation that would allow states more freedom under an array of federal K-12 programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including Title I, in exchange for their commitment to raise student achievement.
Democrats on the panel maintained that the proposed Academic Achievement for All Act--dubbed “Straight A’s"--would undo the careful work members and their aides had invested in crafting a bipartisan Title I plan.
“This is a total evisceration of the [Title I] bill,” charged Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind.
The committee voted 42-6 on Oct. 13 in favor of the Title I legislation--HR 2, the proposed Student Results Act--which was negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders on the panel. At press time last Friday, Republican lawmakers were hoping to hold floor votes on both the Title I bill and Straight A’s this week, but nothing had been officially scheduled. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate education committee, James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., late last week was poised to circulate a detailed outline of his ESEA reauthorization plan.
HR 2 retains the basic underpinnings of Title I as it was last reauthorized in 1994, particularly its focus on supporting standards-based reform. Like other ESEA programs, Title I must be reauthorized by Congress every five years.
It also contains new language to step up accountability for the use of federal dollars, tighten requirements for hiring Title I aides, and allow children in schools classified as low-performing to attend a better public school, among other provisions. (“House Panel Sticks To Bipartisan Title I Plan,” Oct. 13, 1999.)
More than a dozen amendments were considered during the final day of deliberations on the Title I bill, most of which were rejected. A few significant changes were approved, however.
For one, the committee approved an amendment authored by Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., that would lower the poverty threshold for schools wishing to run schoolwide Title I projects. The bill would allow schools in which 40 percent of the students live at the poverty level to engage in schoolwide projects, down from the current 50 percent. Some Democrats complained that lowering the percentage would dilute the targeting of aid to needy students.
Some education groups are opposing a provision that would allow states to set aside up to 30 percent of any Title I funding above current levels for rewards for schools that substantially close the achievement gap between their lowest- and highest-performing students. Originally, the bipartisan bill contained a measure--also opposed by the education groups--requiring a 25 percent set-aside for rewards. Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., proposed an amendment, approved 23-20, that increased the set-aside to 30 percent, but made it voluntary.
“It appears to me that the majority recognized that there was a problem and fixed it, but didn’t make it any better,” said Jeff Simering, the legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation’s largest urban school districts. “We can’t support somebody being permitted to take 30 percent of any new money.”
Other changes to the bipartisan plan include an amendment, offered by Rep. John A. Boehner, R- Ohio, that would eliminate grant programs for Native Hawaiians set out under Title IX of the ESEA, and an amendment by Rep. Schaffer that would require public schools to ensure that educational services or other benefits provided by Title I were secular, neutral, and nonideological. That provision currently applies only to private schools.
Scott Fleming, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for legislation, said in an interview last week that he was encouraged by the action in the House. “We’re clearly moving in the right direction on this piece of legislation,” he said. He cautioned though that the administration has serious concerns with a number of key provisions on accountability and other issues.
Debating Straight A’s
After wrapping up the Title I bill on Oct. 13, the panel reconvened the same day to debate the Straight A’s legislation. Straight A’s would allow participating states to combine funding from many ESEA programs and would free such states from most of the requirements that apply to the individual ESEA programs. Nearly $13 billion in federal K-12 funding would qualify.
Under Straight A’s, states would enter into contracts with the secretary of education spelling out their expectations for improving the achievement of all students, including the lowest-performing students. If a state failed to show satisfactory progress toward its goal in five years, it would lose the flexibility and possibly some administrative money. Local school districts would also have the option of negotiating agreements to combine funds if their states chose not to participate.
“Straight A’s, much like charter schools, offers freedom in return for results,” Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House education committee, said during last week’s hearing. “Federal money should be focused on helping children and their schools, not on maintaining separate, categorical federal programs.” Mr. Goodling cautioned, however, that he did not expect many states to participate because of the demands the program would place on them.
Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., echoed the sentiments of other committee Democrats in opposing the plan. “Federal education funding would be placed out on a stump for governors to do with as they pleased,” he said. “This proposal is another block grant scheme that will lead to defunding of education.”
President Clinton is expected to veto the bill if it passes.
Separately, the National Governors’ Association wrote to Mr. Goodling on Oct. 8 to state its opposition to the bill as drafted.