Congress Adjourns for August Recess Future of Eisenhower Still Uncertain
Both the Senate and the House have adjourned for the August break. The House plans to return on September 9, and the Senate is scheduled to return on August 31. Both chambers hope to conclude their work by October 9.
Here is a brief update on the status of major education-related legislation. As it stands now, the future of the Eisenhower Professional Development Program is still very much in jeopardy.
Appropriations The House passed 11 of its 13 appropriations bills before members left town, but work was not completed on the appropriations bill for Labor, HHS, and Education (HR 4274). As you know, a rider in this bill would allow the combining of funds from the Eisenhower Professional Development Program and Goals 2000 with those of Title VI, in effect creating a block grant. If this happens, Eisenhower funds would not be targeted solely for professional development. In addition, the House proposes to fund the Eisenhower program at $50 million less than in FY 1998.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Although we have said this before, we cannot stress how important it is for you to call or visit your Congressional representatives. (This includes your Senators, because although the Senate will not take up its appropriations bill until September, it is important that your opinion is expressed to Senators before they begin their work). Since members of Congress are now back in their districts, you can call directory assistance for the location and number of your representative's district office(s) and leave messages for them. Or, if you prefer, make an appointment to visit the district office and speak with your representative or a legislative aide.
THE MESSAGE: Ask your representative and senators to vote AGAINST any appropriations bill that would block grant the Eisenhower Professional Development Program. In addition, ask that the Eisenhower program be funded at a minimum of $335 million (the current FY 1998 amount) or more.
Ed-Flex The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee voted, by 17 to 1, to expand the Education Flexibility Demonstration Program (S 2213) from 12 to all 50 states. This legislation was sponsored by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN).
Ed-Flex allows states to waive many requirements of federal education programs if these requirements interfere with state and local efforts to improve education. In exchange, participating states must prove they have solid education reform plans, and they must be willing to waive their own regulations for schools if those rules interfere with individual school reform plans. IDEA and civil rights requirements cannot be waived.
Although many amendments to this bill were offered, only one was accepted: an amendment that would authorize $40 million for inservice teacher training in school technology for FY 1998.
NSTA objected to the expansion of the Ed-Flex program, noting that it could threaten the availability of professional development funds to science and math teachers.
Dollars to the Classroom Act (HR 3248) No new action has occurred with this legislation since the last update. Introduced by Representative Joe Pitts (R-PA) and approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the bill seeks to combine $2.74 billion for 31 Department of Education programs into a single block grant. Similar legislation in the Senate (S. 1589), introduced by Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), has not yet been taken up by the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Both the Council of Chief State School Officers and the American Association of School Administrators have opposed this bill, and the President has vowed to veto it. In your letters/calls/visits to your elected representatives, feel free to also express your displeasure with this legislation.
The E-Rate The battle continues over the fate of this program. In early August, the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to examine whether the funding mechanism the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established for the E-Rate program qualifies as an administrative fee or as a tax. To fund this program, which would provide schools and libraries with discounted Internet access, the FCC has imposed mandatory charges on all telecommunications service providers. The House panel is looking into whether the FCC went beyond its scope and instituted a tax, which only Congress is permitted to do. The issue is also before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and a ruling is expected shortly.
For the most part, panel members were clearly divided on whether the funding mechanism was a tax or a fee: Republicans asserted it was a tax, and Democrats called for their colleagues to wait until the court issues its ruling.
Teacher Tests and Merit Pay Before adjourning, Senator Connie Mack (R-FL) introduced S 2421, a measure that would set aside half of any increase in Eisenhower professional development funds after FY 1999 and instead give these funds to states that allow merit pay and teacher testing. (This provision was also part of the Coverdell education savings bill that President Clinton vetoed earlier this year). Watch this legislative update for future developments on this bill.
Vouchers and Charter Schools Before adjourning, the House passed HR 4380, the appropriations bill for Washington, DC, which included an amendment introduced by Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) to fund a $45 million, five-year school choice plan in the District of Columbia. This amendment would let 2,000 families with incomes below the poverty level to apply for up to $3,200 to use in schools in the metropolitan DC area, including Virginia and Maryland.
The Senate Labor and Human Resource Committee approved a bill that would require charter schools to include their students in state and district assessments and to report the performance of their students on these tests. The bill would also allow state education agencies to distribute Title VI block grant funds to charter schools and award federal charter funding to states with the most charter schools.
There will be a great deal of activity beginning when Congress returns from its August recess and continuing until it adjourns again in October for the elections. Education will likely be a big issue this election year, so watch for all the developments in future legislative updates. As always, please contact your representatives to let your opinions be heard, and remember to forward any feedback you receive to Ann Wild at NSTA Headquarters. Thanks.
Jodi Peterson Co-director, Legislative Affairs *********************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU