Ed-Flex Bills Pass House and Senate; Holt Amendment Defeated
In the House, as reported in FYI #36, Rep. Rush Holt (D- NJ) had prepared an amendment to preserve the federal priority on teacher professional development in math and science. The amendment required that, when a local education agency applies for a waiver from the Department of Education's Eisenhower Professional Development program for math-science teacher training, the application must include "a description of how the professional development needs of its teachers in the areas of mathematics and science will be, or are being, met."
During the March 10 floor debate, Holt offered this language as an amendment to a separate amendment by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI). The original Ehlers amendment called for the states, when granting a waiver of federal guidelines, to ensure that the local education agency obtaining the waiver still had some way of fulfilling the underlying purpose of that federal requirement. The Holt language would have specified that local school districts wanting to waive federal requirements for math-science teacher training must first submit a plan describing how they would meet those needs in some other way.
Ultimately, Holt's amendment was defeated, 204-218, but not before Ehlers commented that he agreed with the intent behind it. Ehlers felt, however, that it was an unnecessary addition to his own amendment and would replace some of the burden on local school administrators that the Ed-Flex bill was intended to remove. "My concern," he said, "is the increased paperwork and the lack of flexibility which would arise from [Holt's] amendment." Ehlers' amendment in its original form was passed by a vote of 406-13.
The amendment offered by Holt generated substantial discussion on the House floor about the importance of having teachers knowledgeable in the fields of science and math. Holt noted that "Congress placed a priority on math and science training in allocation of these [federal] funds because math and science are two areas where teachers have traditionally needed the most help. The statistics bear that out." Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) pointed out that "in 1991, [in] the secondary schools in this country, students were less likely to have a qualified teacher in math than any core subject. Twenty-seven percent of the students had a teacher without at least a minor in math, and for science 32 percent of the students in the seventh grade had a teacher without at least a minor in science." Rep. George Miller (D-CA) added that "most parents would be shocked at the qualifications of the people who are teaching their children science and math.... n good school districts there is a less than one in four chance that the math and science teacher is properly qualified to teach that subject. In poor schools within those districts, the odds get much worse." The majority of Members apparently agreed with Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), who said, "I think the gentleman from Michigan [Ehlers] has been creative in giving us the best of both worlds. He focuses on making sure that the intent of the Federal law is upheld and the State must review all of those applications, but it does not require longer paperwork by the local schools."
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate bill was passed on a bipartisan basis, but not before Democrats attempted - unsuccessfully - to add amendments supporting President Clinton's plans to hire more teachers, reduce class size, end social promotion, expand after-school aid, and reduce the drop-out rate.
A House-Senate conference is now needed to reconcile the two bills into a single piece of legislation for the President's signature. Clinton has indicated that he would sign the Ed-Flex legislation. It remains to be seen whether the Ehlers amendment, which attempts to protect the underlying federal priorities for education funding, will be retained in the final version of the bill.
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics