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Two Education Bills Approved by House Committee

In the effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), two bills (H.R. 3616, H.R. 3222) were approved on February 16 by the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Both bills, sponsored by Chair Bill Goodling (R-PA), were approved by voice vote.

Rep. Goodling is moving his chamber’s ESEA reauthorization as a series of separate bills, with two (H.R. 2, H.R. 1995) approved by the full House so far. An omnibus ESEA reauthorization bill is expected later in the session from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (see The Source, 2/11/99).

Impact Aid
H.R. 3616 reauthorizes the impact aid program, which provides additional federal education funds to school districts located in areas where a significant amount of land is owned by the federal government. Most school districts are funded by property taxes collected from area residents. Therefore, those containing considerable federal land—military bases and Indian reservations, for example—have a lower tax base because they are unable to collect taxes on that land.

The program operates on a formula basis, providing additional funds according to the number of children who reside on federal land and attend local schools. The bill would reauthorize the impact aid program at $910.5 million for FY2001, the same level as FY2000.

H.R. 3222 would increase the federal authorization for Even Start programs to $500 million, up from the FY2000 appropriation of $118 million. Aimed at improving literacy for children and their families, Even Start is based on a program initiated by Rep. Goodling when he was a school superintendent in his home state. “These family literacy programs allow parents to be their own child’s first and most important teacher, while improving the academic skills of the parents themselves,” Rep. Goodling said during the mark-up.

The committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) allowing faith-based organizations and churches to run Even Start programs. The amendment contains standard “charitable choice” language barring proselytization or the promotion of sectarian worship as part of literacy programs, but several Democratic members of the committee expressed concern about violating the constitutional separation of church and state. As a result, two additional amendments—both offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)—were approved by voice vote. One amendment would clarify that Even Start programs are subject to all federal civil rights laws because they accept federal aid. The other amendment states that all individuals administering Even Start programs are barred from proselytization—volunteers and privately-paid individuals as well as those paid by federal funds.

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