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House Committee Targets Funds for Poor, Defeats Vouchers

House Committee Targets Funds for Poor, Defeats Vouchers

WASHINGTON —  Pushing aside school voucher plans, a House committee voted overwhelmingly last month to continue targeting federal funds to the nation’s poorest children, with a new emphasis on public school choice and quality teachers.
By a 42-6 vote, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce renewed Title I, the $8.3 billion program that helps 10.5 million poor children in 90 percent of the nation’s school districts, and sent the measure to the House floor.
A second bill, approved 26-19 along party lines, would give states greater flexibility in spending federal dollars on education. Democrats complained states could divert the money from poor students to wealthier districts.
The committee chairman, GOP Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, says that if Congress passes the Title I bill, “We will be sending a message to states, school districts, and schools: You must produce results, you must report your results, and you must improve program quality.”
Republican lawmakers and education researchers have said Title I is ineffective. The program was created more than 30 years ago to narrow the gap in academic achievement between low-income students and their classmates.
But lawmakers from both parties praised the vote for ensuring that high standards will apply to poor children, who also will get the extra help they need.
The bill would provide money to allow parents of poor children in low-performing schools to send the children elsewhere, either a better public or charter school. Money would also be available to transport the children to their schools.
The legislation does not allow the parents of poor children to use federal dollars to send their youngsters to private school.
Conservative lawmakers on the committee backed voucher plans by GOP Reps. Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Bob Schaffer of Colorado. The proposals lost when Republicans such as Goodling, who wanted to move the bill ahead, joined Democrats in opposition.
The Republicans have expressed strong support for that part of the bill that would have made it easier for poor children to go to better schools outside their neighborhoods.
In the weekly GOP radio address on Oct. 16, Goodling urged Congress to pass the measure.
“Every American child deserves a quality education,” Goodling said in the weekly Republican radio address.
Goodling said the law would help more children attend such schools as the Edison-Friendship Charter School in Washington. Charters are public schools allowed special leeway from most regulations as long as they boost pupils’ achievement. Parents and community business leaders often organize them.
Goodling called Edison-Friendship “a remarkable school in the shadow of the Capitol’s dome.” The 924-student school has a waiting list of 500, offers character education, an eight-hour school day, shorter summer vacations and a home computer for each child once their parents receive computer training.
By its first anniversary in September, students’ test scores had doubled, Goodling proclaims.
Petri says he might offer the voucher plan for use at private schools during floor debate, and adds “there is considerable interest in narrowing the gap between the wealthy and the poor by giving some flexibility in how the [federal] money follows the student.”
In the GOP radio address, Goodling also praised the second plan to give states and all public schools more flexibility in spending federal money in exchange for proven student achievement. That plan, opposed by Democrats, faces the threat of a veto by President Clinton.
The committee made few changes in Title I since it last was renewed in 1994. New initiatives in this year’s package also include  restrictions on how many teacher aides can be hired with federal funds. Some large urban districts, which have had trouble recruiting teachers, were criticized for relying on Title 1 aides as primary instructors in some classes.
The second bill, the Academic Achievement for All Act, would give states added flexibility in spending federal education money — part of a long-running debate focusing on federal vs. local control of schools.
Earlier this year, President Clinton signed a law letting states waive federal rules in some education programs. His education secretary, Richard Riley, has said the bill passed last month went too far and promised he would recommend a veto.
A Senate GOP plan also would increase the pool of federal money that states and school boards can spend on education priorities. The Senate had planned to open debate on Title 1 and other programs in the 34-year-old Elementary and Secondary School Act, which governs $13.9 billion in federal programs.
Such laws are important, Goodling said during the radio address, because “local supervision of schools has been the hallmark and promise of American education.”

— The Associated Press

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