- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

House Republicans negotiating a compromise education bill yesterday defeated the Senate's push to turn federal funding for special education into an entitlement program with perennially guaranteed funding.
The conferees are hammering out differences between the education bills that the two chambers passed earlier this year, and the special education issue remains the biggest obstacle to reaching an agreement.
At stake in the proposal rejected by the House was more than $100 billion in guaranteed money over the next decade. It was earmarked to make good on a promise Congress made in 1975 to pay for 40 percent of local school districts' costs for educating students with special needs everything from autism to mental retardation to physical disabilities.
In the years since the promise was made, federal funding has fallen below 15 percent. Senators yesterday pushed for full 40 percent funding, phased in over six years, while the House proposal includes a one-year increase of about $1.4 billion.
Democrats, led by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, said guaranteeing the funding is critical to helping local school boards meet their obligations to aid students with special needs. They challenged the conference committee to live up to the federal government's promise.
"It's a question about the will of this institution and this body," Mr. Kennedy said.
Republican House members said they support living up to the 40 percent promise as well and they point to their track record over the past six years as evidence. Since 1995, the year Republicans gained control of the House, special education funding has increased 172 percent. That compares with 50 percent in the six preceding years of Democrat control.
But Republicans want to put off a decision about full funding for the program until next year, when a comprehensive review of the program is due.
"We all know that if we don't tie increased funding to the reauthorization we will never get the reforms, and if we put the money out there today, and make this an entitlement, the program will never get fixed," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee.
The Senate conferees voted 16-9 in favor of their plan, with three Republicans joining the Democrats and the chamber's sole independent. But the House conferees rejected the plan, with the six House Democrats voting yes and all 8 Republicans voting no.
After that, a majority of senators rejected a House plan to phase in full funding without making it a yearly mandate.
Not meeting the 40 percent figure doesn't deprive special education students of services federal law requires that certain standards be met but it does mean local school boards have to make decisions about what other programs not to fund.
Democrats came out of yesterday's meeting saying the battle on special education isn't over. In order for a bill to go back to both chambers for a vote, the negotiators must agree on a compromise. Both sides, though, are still hopeful for a deal this year.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide