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Senator’s Defection from GOP to Affect Higher Education

Senator’s Defection from GOP to Affect Higher Education
Full House approves White House-endorsed education reform bill

College officials can expect a sea of change on Capitol Hill following the decision by Vermont Sen. James
Jeffords to leave the Republican party and become an independent.
Jeffords, a moderate Republican, bolted from the GOP in late May, citing the increasingly conservative tilt in the GOP that had controlled both the White House and Congress. The decision has major implications, since the Senate had 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats prior to Jeffords’ defection. Up to this point, Vice President Dick Cheney could cast tiebreaker votes, allowing Republicans to control the chamber.
But Jeffords’ decision changes that equation, since Democrats now outnumber Republicans. Jeffords also said he will vote with Democrats to organize the Senate, giving that party effective control of the chamber.
The decision came as education groups were seeking Senate support to improve on President Bush’s proposed 2002 budget plan.
Higher education leaders had been “surprised and concerned by the low priority given student aid funding in the (Bush) administration’s budget plan,” says Dr. Stanley Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), the nation’s main umbrella higher education organization.
In particular, ACE and other education groups have asked the Senate to spend an extra $6.2 billion on education — money previously set aside for unspecified “priority” issues. The groups say that money should go to the panel writing the spending bill for education and human services.
“Nothing less than this amount is needed to adequately fund the many high-priority programs funded by this subcommittee,” Ikenberry said in a letter on behalf of the American Association of Community Colleges, the Council for Opportunity in Education and other organizations.
Jeffords’ defection from the GOP will have other implications in the Senate as well. As a Republican, Jeffords had served as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which had oversight on the Higher Education Act, among other programs. But with the switch to Democratic control, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., will become the committee’s chairman. Jeffords instead will become chairman of the Senate’s environment committee.
The change also will bring new staff into the HELP Committee, with more details expected in the coming weeks. 
House approves education reform bill
With broad-based support, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a White House-endorsed education reform bill after beating back attempts to add school vouchers to the proposal.
The final House vote was 384 to 45 in favor of the Leave No Child Behind Act, which includes most elements of President Bush’s education reform plan. Included in the bill is a new commitment to testing children as well as more funds to help low-achieving schools and fund new literacy programs.
The bipartisan final vote followed debate in which conservatives tried to insert Bush’s original voucher plan, which called for parents to receive private school choice after three years at a low-performing school. The White House dropped this provision earlier in negotiations with congressional Democrats.
Most lawmakers of color opposed the voucher move. “School vouchers are not a fix for what is wrong with our nation’s education system,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, during floor debate on a voucher amendment. The plan failed by a 273 to 155 vote.
But House members also voted down a plan from Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., to add another $2 billion to the bill for school construction and renovation and other education priorities. The plan failed by a narrow 223 to 207 vote that was largely along party lines.
“It is important we say to the children in the public schools of America that we care about more than just testing them,” Owens said in proposing the plan. However, Republicans said it would add too much money to the plan and impose new federal requirements, thereby violating the spirit of the delicately negotiated bill.
The full Senate still must approve its education reform plan, after which both chambers will meet to craft a final bill. 

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