Dems eye over­haul of ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams; GOP ques­tions spend­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Amy Fa­gan

Ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy is in for some changes un­der the new Demo­crat-con­trolled Congress.

Crack­ing down on the stu­dent-loan in­dus­try, cut­ting loan in­ter­est rates, boost­ing the amount of gov­ern­ment money for ed­u­ca­tion and rewrit­ing por­tions of Pres­i­dent Bush’s No Child Left Be­hind law gov­ern­ing el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion are among the goals of Democrats next year.

On top of that, a few other laws must be re­newed, too — the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Act, the Head Start pro­gram for preschool­ers and the Work­force In­vest­ment Act for job-train­ing pro­grams.

“It’s a big year,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can who will hand over the gavel of the House Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee to Rep. Ge­orge Miller, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

In the Se­nate, Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy will set ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy as chair­man of the Se­nate Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee. The Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat said re­cently he aims for an “im­por­tant in­crease” in ed­u­ca­tion dol­lars. De­spite a “tight bud­get” envi- ron­ment, he said, vot­ers in Novem­ber sent a clear mes­sage that they not only want change in Iraq but also a greater em­pha­sis placed on do­mes­tic is­sues.

“It seems to me the Amer­i­can peo­ple spoke very clearly,” he said.

One of the first or­ders of busi­ness for Democrats will be to cut the in­ter­est rate for fed­er­ally guar­an­teed stu­dent loans in half — a goal House Demo­cratic lead­ers said the House will tackle in its first 100 hours of op­er­a­tion next year.

Mr. Kennedy may in­clude the rate-cut pro­posal in a broader bill that would for­give stu­dent loans af­ter 25 years, in­crease the Pell Grant max­i­mum award to $5,100 and cap fed­eral stu­dent-loan pay­ments at 15 per­cent of the bor­rower’s monthly dis­cre­tionary in­come.

The price tag for all of this is still in flux, but es­ti­mates for the rate-cut pro­posal alone could reach $50 bil­lion, de­pend­ing on whose loans are tar­geted for cuts, a Demo­cratic aide said.

Mr. Kennedy re­cently said stu­dent loans “work well for banks but not for stu­dents.”

An­other pri­or­ity — es­pe­cially for Pres­i­dent Bush — is re­new­ing the No Child Left Be­hind Law of 2002, which is due to ex- pire. Democrats helped ap­prove the law, which re­quires states to hold fail­ing el­e­men­tary schools ac­count­able and bring all stu­dents to read­ing and math pro­fi­ciency, but they’ve com­plained that schools are strug­gling to com­ply be­cause Congress and Mr. Bush have pro­vided about $40 bil­lion less than the fund­ing lev­els set out in the law.

Democrats will push for more money, though Mr. Kennedy said he knows he may not close the fund­ing gap right away. Mean­while, both sides of the aisle are work­ing on tweaks and changes the law may need in ar­eas such as how teach­ers are mea­sured and pro­moted and the way trou­bled schools are han­dled. Repub­li­can aides pre­dicted NCLB re­newal could be rel­a­tively smooth.

Mr. Kennedy, who stood next to Mr. Bush at the bill-sign­ing cer­e­mony in 2002, said re­cently he re­mains will­ing to work with the pres­i­dent if he is com­mit­ted.

“Given the many fail­ures of im­ple­men­ta­tion by his ad­min­is­tra­tion and the mea­ger com­mit­ments to ed­u­ca­tion re­forms in his bud­gets, the pres­i­dent has a high hur­dle to cross to demon­strate that he is se­ri­ously com­mit­ted to th­ese re­forms,” he said.

Repub­li­can lead­ers said Democrats’ prom­ise of big bucks for ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t jibe with their loud pledges of fis­cal re­form.

“If they stick with what they said they want to do, they’re go­ing to be spend­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount, and I would think they’d have trou­ble find­ing those dol­lars,” said out­go­ing Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Judd Gregg, New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can. “It’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise for them.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.