A Senate bill to implement President Bush’s school reform plan would boost the number of federal education grant programs to more than 100, almost twice the number in the House’s version, according to a congressional analysis.
Mr. Bush’s reform effort to streamline federal programs and minimize mandates from Washington concerning local and state use of federal grant money for education will be a major issue in pending Senate-House negotiations on their differing bills, said Rep. John A. Boehner, the conference chairman.
“If states and local schools are to be successful in meeting the tough accountability standards the president’s plan demands, then Washington has an obligation to do its part by streamlining the education bureaucracy and reducing red tape for teachers and school leaders,” the Ohio Republican said.
The House’s $22.9 billion bill would consolidate 64 existing federal elementary and secondary school programs to 50 and also incorporate the president’s two new reading initiatives for preschool and elementary school children, according to an analysis prepared for the conference by the Congressional Research Service.
The Senate bill would spend $40.9 billion next year through 101 separate federal programs. The president, in his revised budget for 2002, had asked that $26.6 billion be spent on federal education programs. His budget would also reduce the number of separate federal education programs to 37.
“The more federal programs and requirements school officials have to contend with, the more complicated their job becomes,” Mr. Boehner said. “We should increase funding for programs that have been proven to work and find ways to merge programs that have similar or complementary goals. Consolidation and flexibility are important building blocks for meaningful education reform.”
The Senate Tuesday appointed 12 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and one independent — Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, former chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — as conferees on the education reform bill.
The House, which had to wait for the Senate appointments and a formal request for the conference, will appoint its own team imminently, said David Schnittger, spokesman for the House Education and Workforce Committee. Mr. Bush has asked for a finished bill before Congress recesses in August.
Yet the vast difference between the House and Senate approaches on consolidation of federal education programs could mean a difficult, protracted conference. “We’re going one way, down , they’re going the other way. It’s a major philosophical difference,” Mr. Schnittger said.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and leader of the Senate conferees, will insist on retaining Senate funding levels wherever possible, particularly $8.8 billion for federal special education grants and teacher training under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), said spokesman Jim Manley.
“There was a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate for IDEA funding,” Mr. Manley said.
However, Mr. Manley was less certain of Democratic support for streamlining and consolidation. Many Senate conferees are Democrats whose amendments added funding and new federal programs for teacher recruitment, training and professional development; new technology in the classroom; mathematics and science grants to states; safe and drug-free schools programs; bilingual education; and after-school programs.
“Those programs enjoy broad bipartisan support,” Mr. Manley said. Conferees will “take a careful look at programs to see which need to be consolidated and which need to be left alone,” he said.