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Education Reporter
Changing the Education Debate
A report on how education issues fared in the 105th Congress

By Sheila Moloney

The following describes the outcome of education legislation that pro-family groups worked on during the now-adjourned 105th Congress. The 106th Congress convenes at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 1999.

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Dollars to the Classroom
The Dollars to the Classroom Act (H.R. 3248), sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), passed the House 212-198 (with one member voting 'present') on September 18. This legislation would direct the federal Department of Education to send 95% of certain funds to be used in local classrooms. The proposal would actually increase the amount of money that individual schools and classrooms receive, but the National Education Association opposed the bill anyway.

Dollars to the Classroom would block- grant 31 programs to the states and require that they spend 95 cents of every dollar on classroom education expenses. Although many want to completely eliminate the federal government's role in education, this is the next best thing. For example, by block-granting School-to-Work, Goals 2000, and Whole School Reform, this bill would allow states to choose between funding these programs or spending the money on other education priorities. The teachers unions and education bureaucrats oppose the bill because it would reduce their ability to micromanage public school education at the federal level and through the state departments of education.

National Testing
Last year, pro-family forces won a huge victory when a provision was added to the FY1998 Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations bill denying funds for development or implementation of federal education tests. Mandating a national test would mandate a national curriculum. For the second year in a row, President Clinton was stopped from implementing new federal tests for all fourth and eighth graders. The Omnibus-spending bill includes language prohibiting the use of federal funds to implement any new national tests not explicitly authorized by Congress.

In addition to the testing prohibition, the Omnibus-spending bill contains the following provisions: (1) limited development and modification of test items by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) (same as permitted in FY1998) will be allowed in FY1999; (2) NAGB is required to determine and report to Congress and the White House on the purpose(s) of the proposed tests; (3) NAGB is required to determine and report to Congress and the White House on the meaning of "voluntary" in the context of national tests ("voluntary" as to the student, the school, the school district, or the state); (4) NAGB is required to report to Congress and the White House on its response to the recent National Academy of Sciences Study which stated that the achievement levels (basic, proficient, advanced) - which are intended to be used for the national tests - are fundamentally flawed; and (5) the National Academy of Sciences is required to conduct a study of the feasibility, validity and reliability of imbedding test items from NAEP or other tests and assessments for the purpose of providing a common measure of individual student performance.

Chairman Bill Goodling (R-PA) in the House and Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) in the Senate led the fight to extend the ban on national testing and should be thanked!

K-12 School-To-Work
This summer, President Clinton signed H.R. 1385 into law (29 U.S.C. 2801(3)). This bill contains the adult job training, the youth dropout job training, and some after-school K-12 programs. This fall, Congress also passed and the President signed into law the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Amendments of 1998 (H.R. 1853). Thus, the two revised components of the original "Careers Bill" are now law.

H.R. 1853 deals with K-12 in-school vocational education, and supporters claim the bill combines wasteful and duplicative federal voc-ed programs. Opponents worry that the bill is a back door attempt to implement school-to-work and Clinton's education agenda.

The House-Senate conference on K-12 voc-ed had been stalled due to policy disagreements between the two legislative bodies. But on Oct. 8, the conference reported a compromise version that the Senate proceeded to adopt by unanimous consent. The following day the House approved the measure by voice vote and the President signed it into law on Oct. 31.

Included in this new law is a ban on database development, the Ashcroft ban on using these funds for the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (though the final and vague "unless" clause could provide an opening), and an explicit requirement that the services be voluntary. The following is the language included in the bill:

Sec. 5. Privacy.
(b) Prohibition on development of national database - Nothing in this Act shall be construed to permit the development of a national database of personally identifiable information on individuals receiving services under this Act.

Sec. 6. Limitation.
All of the funds made available under this Act shall be used in accordance with the requirements of this Act. None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to provide funding under the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (20 U.S.C. 6101 et seq.) or to carry out, through programs funded under this Act, activities that were funded under the School-To-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, unless the programs funded under this Act serve only those participants eligible to participate in the programs under this Act.

Sec. 314. Voluntary Selection and Participation.
No funds made available under this Act shall be used:
(1) to require any secondary school student to choose or pursue a specific career path or major; and
(2) to mandate that any individual participate in a vocational and technical education program, including a vocational and technical education program that requires the attainment of a federally-funded skill level, standard, or certificate of mastery.

Briefly Noted

  • In late September, Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO) entered into the Congressional Record Marc Tucker's famous education letter to Hillary Clinton. Because of the length of the letter, Rep. Schaffer had to personally pay over $7,000 to enter the text. His office reports receiving hundreds of phone calls after he made his statement on the House floor, carried live by C-SPAN.

  • Despite a last minute push from the President for its inclusion, the Omnibus-spending bill did not contain new federal funding for school construction, which currently is the responsibility of state and local governments.

  • In 1997, Congress repealed, for one year, the special tax break enjoyed by the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the National Education Association, worth approximately $1.1 million a year. The Omnibus-spending bill makes that repeal permanent. (Sect. 147 of D.C. Appropriations title, page 348.)

  • The Omnibus-spending bill contains an additional $3 billion in education spending, with some of that money coming out of the budget surplus. Included in this figure is $1.2 billion in new funding to assist local school districts in reducing class size and to train, test, recruit and hire and test 30,000 new teachers (not 100,000, as reported). (The total cost of hiring 100,000 new teachers over seven years would be about $12 billion, according to the administration.) Fifteen percent of this money can be used for training existing teachers or testing them for competency. Most of the money will go to poor districts, not to suburban neighborhoods.

  • Goals 2000 money, despite being cut in half by the House, was restored to full funding in the final bill, even though its authorization expired this year.

  • The Omnibus-spending bill contains an additional $510 million over FY1998 funding levels for the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), the nation's special education law.

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