Maintaining for now most aspects of a compromise brokered by Republican and Democratic leaders, the House Education and the Workforce Committee spent much of last week considering a largely bipartisan plan for reauthorizing the biggest federal program for K-12 education.
Last Thursday, the committee ended three days of deliberations on a bill concerning the $8 billion Title I program without completing work on it. The members were expected to reconvene Oct. 13 to consider further amendments before voting on a final plan for reauthorizing Title I, which serves disadvantaged students.
The bill as drafted contains provisions to step up accountability for the use of federal education dollars, tighten requirements for hiring Title I paraprofessionals or aides, and require school officials to seek parental consent before limited-English-proficient students can receive instruction in their native languages. Among other provisions, it also says that children attending schools classified as low performing must be given the opportunity to attend a higher-quality public school.
At the same time, the bill retains the basic underpinnings of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as it was last reauthorized in 1994, particularly its focus on supporting standards-based reform in the states.
| Reps. William L. Clay, D-Mo., and Bill Goodling, R-Pa., confer during the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s deliberations last week on a bipartisan plan for reauthorizing Title I. |
--Benjamin Tice Smith
“This bill was put together with four overarching principles in mind: quality, accountability, choice, and flexibility,” committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., said Oct. 5 as the panel began its first day of “mark-up” hearings on the legislation.
On the same day, while saying that the bill contained some “disappointing” provisions, Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said it was, “on balance, a bill that we can accept.”
The committee’s actions represent an important early step in a long ESEA reauthorization process that is expected to carry over well into next year. In July, the House approved the proposed Teacher Empowerment Act, the first piece of Mr. Goodling’s plan to overhaul the ESEA, which he has decided to move forward as several separate pieces of legislation.
His Senate counterpart, Sen. James M. Jeffords, the Vermont Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is expected to distribute a discussion draft of his own ESEA plan later this month.
Plethora of Amendments
One potential deal breaker for Democrats--a proposed amendment for so-called Title I portability--was defeated on a 28-13 committee vote. The amendment, offered by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., with the backing of some conservative Republicans on the 50-member panel, would allow Title I dollars to follow individual low-income students from school to school.
Last week, Republicans and Democrats pitched an array of amendments, including proposals to delete the parental-consent requirement for LEP students and the tougher standards for Title I aides. Those and most other changes were either rejected by the committee or withdrawn.
One notable change that did win the committee’s approval was an amendment by Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., that would retain the current poverty threshold for schools wishing to run schoolwide Title I projects. The original draft of the bill would have allowed schools in which 40 percent of the students were in poverty to tackle schoolwide reforms, instead of the current 50 percent.
In addition, Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., won approval for a new $20 million competitive-grant program that would encourage states and school districts to craft innovative public-school-choice initiatives.
The draft Title I bill has received generally favorable marks from several education groups, though they are seeking changes to certain provisions.
For instance, the 2.4-million-member National Education Association expressed some misgivings about a proposal to set limits on the hiring of Title I aides, and it urged more emphasis on ensuring adequate and appropriate training for paraprofessionals.
By contrast, however, Richard Long, the Washington representative of the International Reading Association, argued that the bill did not go far enough in limiting the responsibilities of aides. The bill “still allows [paraprofessionals] to provide instruction,” Mr. Long said in an interview. “That’s still a major flaw.”
In addition, the American Association of School Administrators and the Council of Chief State School Officers were among those that opposed language in the plan requiring states to set aside 25 percent of any new Title I funding above current levels for rewards for schools that substantially close the achievement gap between their lowest- and highest-performing students.
During the “markup” of the committee bill, the process of examining it line by line, Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., offered an unsuccessful amendment to delete the new 25 percent set-aside.
Last week, the bill contained a range of new accountability provisions. It included requirements that states show increased achievement for subgroups of students--such as the economically disadvantaged and member of minorities--and that states, districts, and schools provide report cards to parents with detailed information on Title I schools. (“House Panel To Take Up Title I, ‘Straight A’s’ Bills,” Oct. 6, 1999.)
The report card measure, similar to one for all schools in President Clinton’s ESEA plan, riled some conservatives. “It’s not the role of the federal government to tell [states and districts] what the content of those report cards should be,” Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said during the hearing.
But Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., replied: “The reason this is in there ... is that not all school districts and not all states are necessarily interested” in making this information public.
The Clinton administration offered a mixed response to the bill.
In an Oct. 5 letter to Mr. Goodling, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the bill “focuses on some of the same themes, such as high standards for our schools, accountability for results, and increased quality of teachers, that shaped the president’s ESEA proposal.” But he expressed concern with some provisions, including some of the accountability language.
“The bill would effectively compel every state to reinvent its accountability system,” Mr. Riley wrote.