The House last week rejected efforts to create a federal school voucher program and separately restored gender-equity language with its bipartisan approval of a bill to reauthorize key portions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
On a different front, the House the same day passed a scaled-back version of the GOP’S Academic Achievement for All Act dubbed “Straight A’s” that would allow states freedom from most federal ESEA requirements in exchange for signing performance agreements committing them to raise the achievement of all students.
Earlier last week, the support of some moderate Republicans began to falter, and the GOP leadership agreed to limit the Straight A’s plan to just 10 states. However, the Clinton administration has threatened a presidential veto of the bill, HR 2300, which passed largely along party lines, 213-208.
By contrast, HR 2 passed the House last Thursday on a vote of 358-67. HR 2, also known as the Student Results Act, would reauthorize the $8 billion Title I program for disadvantaged students, as well as several smaller programs within the ESEA.
HR 2 came to the House floor with strong bipartisan support as the result of negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders on the House education committee. The measure retains the basic structure and underpinnings of Title I as it was last reauthorized in 1994.
| At a Glance: HR 2 |
The Student Results Act of 1999
|Synopsis: The bill would reauthorize Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which seeks to provide aid for disadvantaged students, as well as several smaller programs contained in the ESEA. It would raise the authorization level for Title I grants to local school districts to $9.85 billion. (In fiscal 1999, $7.7 billion was appropriated for the grants.) HR 2, which has bipartisan support, would retain the basic structure for Title I, particularly its emphasis on supporting standards-based reform. The bill seeks to step up the accountability provisions in the law, to lower the minimum poverty threshold for schools seeking to run schoolwide Title I projects from 50 percent of the student body to 40 percent, and to create stricter requirements for the hiring of Title I aides, among other provisions.|
|Last action: The House passed the bill, 358-67.|
|Next action: Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the chairman of the Senate education committee, released a “discussion draft” of his plans for reauthorizing the ESEA on Oct. 15. His committee had not set a date for formal action as of press time.|
But it proposes some significant changes, such as stepping up the law’s accountability provisions, tightening requirements on the hiring of Title I aides, and lowering the poverty threshold for schools seeking to use Title I money to operate schoolwide reform projects. (“House Panel Passes Title I, ‘Straight A’s’ Bills,” Oct. 20, 1999.)
HR 2 also would raise the authorization level for Title I grants to local school districts to $9.85 billion, a $1.5 billion increase from the $8.35 billion level originally set in the bill. In fiscal 1999, which ended Sept. 30, $7.7 billion was appropriated for the grants.
In the Senate, the chairman of the education committee, Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., unveiled his draft plan for reauthorizing the ESEA this month.
During action on the House floor last week, a tuition-voucher amendment that threatened the bill’s bipartisan appeal was defeated when more than 50 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting it down, 257-166.
The amendment, offered by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, would have created a five-year pilot school choice program for students in grades 1 through 5 who attend failing schools. The pupils would have received up to $3,500 in federal scholarship funds to use at alternative public, private, or religious schools. It also would have allowed victims of violence at Title I schools to receive tuition vouchers.
The House also rejected--by a 271-151 vote--an amendment by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., that would have allowed up to 10 states to use Title I funding for tuition at nonpublic schools.
Rep. Patsy T. Mink, D-Hawaii, meanwhile led several women lawmakers in the successful push to restore gender-equity provisions to the bill, including the $3 million Women’s Educational Equity Act. The provisions had been deleted at the behest of Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“It is not time now to terminate the programs that have been successful,” Ms. Mink said during debate on the House floor Oct. 20.
HR 2 also contains a last-minute compromise on bilingual education that, among other provisions, would require school officials to seek prior parental consent for students to attend classes that provide native- language instruction. But in cases where the child entered the school after the school year had begun, services could be provided as soon as school officials documented that they had attempted to notify parents.
In addition, the bill would order that bilingual education funding for instructional services that is now doled out through competitive grants instead be distributed on a formula basis to states after the appropriation for the initiative reaches $220 million. Fiscal 1999 funding for the program was $160 million.
Hours after finishing with HR 2 last Thursday, lawmakers approved the Straight A’s bill. Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., the chairman of the education committee’s Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee, earlier last week indicated that he would no longer support Straight A’s in its original form.
“He thought the bill was too sweeping,” said Mr. Castle’s spokesman, Ron Bonjean.
Observers said Mr. Castle’s opposition was likely to bring with it enough GOP moderates to defeat the bill. In response, the GOP leadership agreed to the 10-state limit on the plan, but that was still not enough to persuade most Democrats to back it.