Gridlock eased long enough for President Clinton’s reading initiative to inch toward passage last week, but it kept a grip on his national testing plan.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee passed a reading bill that included much of what Mr. Clinton proposed earlier this year and attracted conditional Democratic support. Meanwhile, Congress extended the deadline for voting on the administration’s national test plan until Nov. 7, and a legislative impasse on testing and other issues tied to annual appropriations bills continued. (See related story, p. 20.)
“I want to work with the president on education, but we aren’t here to rubber-stamp poor ideas,” Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the education panel’s chairman, said in announcing that his committee would consider the literacy bill he had held up two weeks earlier to protest the testing plan.1
Mr. Goodling’s decision came after President Clinton and his team highlighted the stalled reading bill in a national radio address on Oct. 18 and at White House events last week featuring the testing and reading initiatives.
“I’m concerned that the House is starting to get stuck in the usual partisan rut and losing sight of what is really important in education,” Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at the White House on Oct. 20, two days before Mr. Goodling’s committee acted.
Later, Mr. Goodling said in an interview that he wanted his panel to take up the reading legislation despite protests from many conservative committee members that the federal government already runs other literacy programs. He said he feared Mr. Clinton would get most of what he wanted for his literacy plan from the Senate.
“My idea is that we should be a player,” he said. “We’re going to get a program whether we are players or not.”
While Mr. Goodling yielded on the reading bill, he held firm in his opposition to proposed voluntary national assessments for 4th graders in reading and 8th graders in mathematics. He recruited 295 members to support his amendment to bar the Department of Education from spending money to develop the tests.
But appropriators, who are trying to write the annual spending bill to which Mr. Goodling’s amendment is attached, are pushing for a compromise that the president will sign.
“Ultimately, we have to do this thing,” Rep. John Edward Porter, R-Ill., the chairman of the House-Senate conference committee trying to settle the issue, said.
To allow more time for a deal, Congress last week passed and Mr. Clinton signed a spending measure that keeps federal programs in the Education Department and several other agencies funded through Nov. 7. Appropriators are already behind schedule. Fiscal 1998 began Oct. 1.
The reading bill that Mr. Goodling’s panel passed in a unanimous voice vote differs from the president’s proposal to train 1 million volunteers, AmeriCorps workers, and college students to serve as reading tutors. Mr. Goodling’s bill would allow college students to continue as tutors through the College Work-Study financial-aid program, but it would not authorize trainers for volunteers or AmeriCorps workers. 2
Instead, it would distribute $260 million in fiscal 1999 for teacher training. The money, which was earmarked for the president’s literacy effort, would flow to states, which would pass 95 percent of their grants to school districts.
The plan also would allow schools in impoverished areas to use federal funds for tutorial-assistance grants, a proposal Democrats oppose. The money would be given to parents to pay tutors approved by the school district. Although Democrats objected to the grants, they decided to vote for the bill, HR 2614, in the hope of negotiating a deal they could accept before the full House considers the measure. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said the bill would be debated this week.
“I am pleased that Chairman Goodling and the members of the committee voted to pass ... a bipartisan bill that moves us one step closer to helping many more children read well and independently by the end of the 3rd grade,” Mr. Riley said in a statement.
No Budging on Testing
While Mr. Goodling sensed it was time to move on the reading bill, he and Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who is leading the opposition to the national tests in the Senate, decided to turn up the heat on the Education Department.
They requested that the General Accounting Office audit the department’s spending to date on the national tests, review the department’s legal authority to create such tests, and investigate the work done by test contractors hired by the department.
Mr. Ashcroft now has 35 senators committed to abandoning the amendment adopted by the Senate that would allow the tests but put them under the control of the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent panel that already oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress.