CHN: ESEA Reauthorization Moves Forward

Legislation Would Authorize Increased Funding for Title I Congress appears set to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the primary law authorizing federal assistance for elementary and secondary education, including programs for disadvantaged children. ESEA was last reauthorized in 1994 and it expired last year. The House Education and the Workforce Committee passed its version of the bill (H.R. 1) by a vote of 41-7 on May 9. It is expected to be considered on the House floor some time this week. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed its own version of the bill (S. 1) on March 1 and it is now being considered on the Senate floor.

The House bill would increase authorized funding for Title I, the principal source of educational assistance for disadvantaged children, from $8.6 billion to $17 billion. The Senate bill goes further, raising authorized Title I funding to $15 billion in FY 2002, $24.7 billion in FY 2005, and $44.2 billion in FY 2011, an amount sufficient to reach 75 percent of eligible children within four years and all eligible children within 10 years. Higher funding must be authorized before appropriations bills, which actually provide federal money, can be enacted with higher funding levels.

The House and Senate bills would make a number of other changes to federal education policy, and despite Republican control of Congress and the presidency, both bills seem relatively moderate in their approach. The administration has given no more than token support for private school vouchers, and they were quickly stripped from both bills relatively early in the process. Democrats did compromise, however, by agreeing to allow parents of children served by underperforming Title I programs to use Title I money to pay for private tutoring, including faith based programs. Some voucher opponents are concerned about the precedent that might be set by this program.

Neither bill includes an administration proposal to block grant most federal education programs, instead including watered down provisions to increase state and local flexibility. Both bills do, however, include an administration-backed proposal to require testing of children in reading, math, and science in grades 3 through 8. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) was passed last week in the Senate to expand these tests beyond a simple, standardized multiple choice format.

Overall, many conservatives are not happy with what they see as a bill little better than recent Clinton administration proposals. Several groups, including the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Eagle Forum, and the Traditional Values Coalition, have all come out against the bill or otherwise withheld their support. The bipartisan approach has kept Democrats on board, however, vastly increasing the likelihood that a bill increasing authorized elementary education funding generally, and Title I funding in particular, will get signed into law this year.

Education and Youth Policy