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Education Overhaul Agreement Reached

After months of negotiations, conferees completed work on a long-awaited education reform bill (H.R. 1). The House approved, 381-41, the conference report for the measure on December 13. The Senate is expected to pass the bill on December 18, sending it to the President prior to adjournment.

The legislation will renew for six years a majority of the federal education programs included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which expired last year. The final bill is similar to the House-passed and Senate-passed measures, both of which partially mirrored the President’s education plan.

Under H.R. 1, states will be required to administer annual math and reading tests for students in grades 3-8, and $400 million is authorized in FY2002 to help states develop and administer these tests. States will have until the 2005-2006 school year to develop and administer the tests. States also are required to develop science tests by the 2005-2006 school year and implement them by the following school year. Report language specifies that quality science education should help students understand the “full range of views on controversial topics being taught, such as biological evolution.”

Local school districts will be given flexibility in using federal dollars while being held accountable for improved student achievement. Schools with the poorest test scores will be given additional funding to improve performance, but if schools fail to improve after two years, low-income students will be able to transfer to other public schools.

Additionally, beginning in the 2002-2003 school year, states and school districts will be required to provide report cards for parents and the general public detailing performance.

The final agreement authorizes $26.3 billion in FY2002 for education programs, $3.5 billion more than the House bill and $5.4 billion less than the Senate bill. While the bill authorizes $13.5 billion in FY2002 for Title I programs for disadvantaged students, it does not include a Senate-passed provision that would have made special education funding mandatory.

Teacher training programs are authorized at $3.2 billion in FY2002. These programs include programs previously authorized under the Eisenhower Professional Development and the class size reduction programs. Additionally, $450 million would be authorized for the Math and Science Partnership Program. Authorized activities under this program include training teachers and developing programs to encourage young women and other underrepresented individuals in math and science careers to pursue degrees leading to these careers.

Two newly established literacy programs are authorized under the bill. The Reading First program is authorized at $900 million and the Early Reading First program is authorized at $75 million, the same amount provided in the House bill. The Even Start Family Literacy Program is authorized at $260 million in FY2002.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is authorized at $1.25 billion in FY2002, $1.5 billion in FY2003, $1.75 billion in FY2004, $2 billion in FY2005, $2.25 billion in FY2006, and $2.5 billion in FY2007.

The bill also would reauthorize the Women’s Educational Equity Act, provide grants for the integration of schools and mental health systems, promote school readiness through early childhood emotional and social development programs, authorize parental assistance and local family information centers, and provide grants to combat domestic violence by providing support to elementary and secondary school children experiencing or witnessing domestic violence. Additionally, the bill allows federal funds to be used for same sex schools and classrooms.

The final agreement includes a Senate-passed provision denying federal funds to any public school or school district that discriminates against, or denies equal access to, any group affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.

Members mostly praised the final education agreement during debate on the conference report. However, a number of Members expressed their disappointment that the bill did not contain a Senate-passed provision that would have authorized a $181 billion increase over 10 years for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and made funding for the program mandatory rather than discretionary. The House bill did not contain a similar provision.

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