- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Teachers unions and reform-minded education groups are battling over a Senate bill to implement President Bushs education reform plan, which the Senate is scheduled to take up tomorrow.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said yesterday that White House reluctance to move closer to a Democratic proposal for a $13.9 billion increase in federal education funding next year might hold up action on the presidents top legislative priority.
The administration plan would increase federal spending by $1.9 billion for elementary and secondary school programs, with most of the money targeted toward new reading initiatives for preschool and elementary children and accountability testing to measure reading and math skills of all public school students in grades three through eight.
The Senate bill reported out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee actually would increase federal spending authorizations $27.7 billion next year and $205.5 billion over the next seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Mr. Daschle termed the $12 billion funding gap between congressional Democrats and the administration "a very big difference that has to be addressed" by White House and congressional negotiators before Senate action can commence tomorrow.
"Were hoping that we can find some middle ground," the minority leader said as Democrats with backing of teachers unions prepare to offer amendments to add funds for school renovation and construction, hiring more teachers, and professional development programs for teachers.
"Its the old dichotomy between follow the money and follow results," said Jeanne Allen, head of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which supports higher standards and school choice initiatives.
"Congress is so saturated with the education establishment that when a strong reform plan like the one under consideration comes to town, they just dont get it," Mrs. Allen said.
The reform group leader said the Bush administration plan "may not survive the onslaught" by the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The two major teachers unions vigorously oppose the bills expansion of charter schools and provisions allowing federal funds to move with children who flee failing schools for classrooms in higher achievement schools.
The unions are even fighting a negotiated agreement between Republicans and Democrats over amendments to the Senate bill to allow federal funds to pay for extra tutoring of children trapped in failing public schools, and to allow high-achieving states and school districts to opt out of highly regimented federal programs with block grants of federal education funds.
"Such proposals shift scarce resources away from public schools while eliminating accountability for the use of federal funds," said the NEA in a statement opposing the provisions.
Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, has led the fight for so-called "portability" of federal aid when parents move their children from failing schools, saying federal dollars should go to children, not buildings.
Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has championed the block-grant proposal for states and school districts with the motto: "Straight As academic achievement for all."
During committee consideration of the Bush education reform plan, Mr. Frist had called for up to 15 states to be permitted to combine funds under a dozen federal formula grant programs so they could pursue their own state-mandated school priorities without federal strings so long as they continued to exceed strict federal accountability standards.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who led negotiations for Senate Democrats, accepted Mr. Frists revised "Straight As" plan because the compromise contains "significant provisions" for targeting low-income and disadvantaged students and accountability, said Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley.

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