Recent Congressional Action on Education Bills
The final form that the reauthorized ESEA will take is difficult to foresee; the House has chosen to authorize different portions (Titles) of ESEA in separate bills, while the Senate plans to handle it as a single bill. Additionally, how far bills like the Straight A's Act will get, and how they will impact the programs authorized under ESEA, are also unknown. This issue was raised repeatedly by Democrats during the October 21 House debate on the Straight A's Act, which was passed later in the same day as the House's reauthorization of Title I of ESEA (H.R. 2). As Rep. William Clay (D-MO) stated, "Just five hours ago this body passed H.R. 2, a bill to target federal funds to poor, disadvantaged children. That bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now, if we enact H.R. 2300 tonight, it would eviscerate the enhanced targeting and accountability provisions contained in that bipartisan bill."
HOUSE ESEA TITLE I: H.R. 2, the Student Results Act, was passed by the House on October 21. The main purpose of the bill is to reauthorize federal education programs for poor and disadvantaged students. However, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), a physicist, succeeded in getting bill language approved that would call for states, by 2005, to develop assessments for student progress in science. Student progress assessments in math and reading are already required. During floor debate on his amendment, Ehlers stated, "this is simply saying this is an important national priority and one of the subjects that we should teach and which our school systems should assess is the knowledge that students have acquired in the scientific arena so that we know whether or not we will have an adequate work force for the future, and so that we will have an adequate number of scientists and engineers as well." Ehlers' amendment passed by a vote of 360-62.
HOUSE STRAIGHT A'S ACT: This bill in its original form would have allowed all states to apply for waivers to use federal funds as they wished, but an amendment by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) was approved that narrowed the legislation to a 10-state pilot program. As passed by the House (on a close vote of 213-208), H.R. 2300 would allow ten states to participate in this program, in which they would submit five-year performance plans to the Department of Education. In return, they would be able to use federal funds for education needs of their own choosing, rather than as required by federal programs (such as the Eisenhower program for teacher professional development in science and math). The states would be required to show gains in student achievement, or return to the current system of allocating federal education money.
In debating H.R. 2300, Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) said, "let me reiterate that this rule implements a compromise that will allow ten states to escape from the red tape of federal rules and regulations to implement the education reforms that they guarantee will improve student performance. These ten states may use federal dollars, including Title I funding, as they see fit, to raise academic achievement, improve teacher quality, reduce class size, end social promotion, or whatever they feel is required in their schools to meet their performance goals." Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA) countered that the House "has just passed [Title I of the] Elementary and Secondary Education Act making schools accountable to parents, teachers, and, most importantly, students. This bill scratches all that. It says Congress changed its mind and now does not require any proof that schools are spending money in a way that benefits children's education." Rep. Castle, the author of the amendment, pointed out "that this is a pilot program that we are talking about. We are talking about an experiment in which we are trying to determine if there is a better methodology of dealing with these programs, of dealing with these disadvantaged students that there has been before. That has worked, as somebody has pointed out, in welfare reform. It has worked in Ed-Flex. Hopefully, it can work in this as well." Legislation similar to H.R. 2300 has been introduced in the Senate but not acted upon yet.
SENATE ESEA REAUTHORIZATION: Senator James Jeffords (R-VT) on October 15 released a "discussion draft" of his ESEA reauthorizing legislation. His version, as yet unnumbered, reserves $250 million (the same as in FY 1999) of Department of Education professional development funds for teacher training in science and math. However, later provisions in the bill appear to offer states a number of ways to consolidate federal education funds - including the professional development funds - or use them as the states choose.
LABOR-HHS-EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS BILLS: Still not yet completed are the House and Senate version of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill for FY 2000. According to reports, the House version (H.R. 3037) would provide less money for the combined Eisenhower Professional Development, Goals 2000, and Class Size Reduction programs than FY 1999 funding. This bill was passed by the House Appropriations Committee on September 30, but not acted on yet by the full House. The Senate bill (S. 1650) reportedly would fund the Eisenhower program at the FY 1999 level of $335 million ($250 million of that is currently reserved specifically for science and math professional development). The full Senate passed S. 1650 on October 7. President Clinton has expressed opposition to both current versions of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, and has issued a veto threat.
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics