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Senate Continues Education Debate

This week marked the third week of Senate debate on a bill (S. 1) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (see The Source, 5/4/01, p.1; 5/11/01, p. 1). While a number of amendments were considered this week, action on the measure was postponed to allow for consideration of a tax reconciliation package. After a final vote on that bill on May 21, the Senate will resume debate on the education bill. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) announced that he expects a vote on final passage before the Memorial Day recess.

On May 14, the Senate approved, 74-23, an amendment by Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) that would authorize $24 million in FY2002 for activities to improve school safety. Such activities would include programs to provide early prevention, expand parental involvement, promote student awareness and conflict resolution and peer mediation, increase the number of after-school programs, and expand student access to mental health programs. The amendment also would authorize $25 million in FY2002 for the establishment of the National Center for School and Youth Safety.

Speaking in support of his amendment, Sen. Cleland said, “The center would offer emergency assistance to local communities to respond to school safety crises, including counseling for victims, assistance to law enforcement to address short-term security concerns, and advice on how to enhance school safety, prevent future incidents, and respond to incidents once they occur.”

The same day, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) withdrew an amendment designed to reduce class size, saying, “I believe the underlying bill accomplishes what I have sought, and that is to allow the States to have discretion to use funds under this bill for classroom size or additional teachers if they choose to do so.”

Subsequently, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that also would have reduced class size. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 48-50 on May 15.

Sen. Murray argued, “Because of our investment over the last 3 years, almost 2 million students are learning in less crowded classrooms today…. But the underlying bill, despite the rhetoric you have just heard, takes a very different approach. It breaks our commitment to investing in smaller classes.”

Sen. James Jeffords (R-VT) opposed the amendment, saying, “I believe local schools are in a better position than we are to determine how best to distribute funding in regard to professional development and hiring practices. S. 1 gives local school districts the opportunity to make their own decisions about the expenditure of dollars for the purpose of improving their teacher corps, which, in turn, will hopefully lead to gains in overall student performance.”

On May 15, the Senate approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would require the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education to study the effects on children of exposure to violent entertainment.

On May 16, the Senate approved, 60-39, an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would express the sense of the Senate that “Congress should continue toward the goal of providing the necessary funding for after school programs by appropriating the authorized level of $1,500,000,000 for FY 2002” for Title I activities. The amendment also would authorize $1.5 billion for such activities.

Several amendments were rejected by the Senate on May 16. One, offered by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), would have provided for school construction, repair, and renovation. The amendment was defeated, 37-62.

Another amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), would have provided grants for school renovation. The amendment was defeated, 49-50.

On May 17, the Senate adopted, 76-24, an amendment by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) that would extend loan forgiveness for certain loans to Head Start teachers.

The Senate also defeated, 34-65, an amendment by Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN) to fully fund 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure for programs under part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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