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Education Reform Bill OKd After Filibuster Is Thwarted : Legislation: Senate overcomes school prayer fight to send $12.7-billion plan to Clinton. It caps a series of measures designed to improve performance.

October 06, 1994|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Overcoming unexpectedly fierce congressional opposition, the Clinton Administration won final approval Wednesday of the last part of its education agenda.

The Senate voted, 77 to 20, to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which will provide $12.7 billion in 1995 to improve schools, especially those in impoverished districts. The Administration had revamped the measure to bring it in line with its overall education effort to stimulate reform in public schools so that all children are held to high standards.

"When we introduced our agenda, we said we would change this country from a nation at risk to a nation on the move, and I think we've done that," Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said of the nine pieces of education legislation passed by Congress over the last two years.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a school prayer advocate, led a filibuster to block a final vote on the bill. But the measure had such broad support that the Senate voted, 75 to 24, to break the filibuster.

Those who favor the legislation said that Congress has not made such significant progress in education since 1965.

"It's a 30-year high water mark," said Gordon Ambach, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "This means the federal role in education shifts to a focus on raising performance of all schools and all students."

The measure passed Wednesday would change the biggest federal program for elementary and secondary programs, Title I of the act, which would allocate $7 billion a year to help schools teach poor children. The legislation would direct more of the money to schools with higher percentages of poor children.

Even so, it does not go nearly as far as the Administration or some liberal legislators wanted.

"It is much better than the status quo," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles). "But folks in Congress did not learn the lesson that the President learned: that we should focus the money in the areas that need it most."

The bill also expands federal funds for professional development of teachers, authorizes $655 million for safe and drug-free school programs, and for the first time allocates money specifically for buying computers and other technical equipment to help children learn.

In other education measures over the last two years, Congress has expanded the Head Start preschool program for poor children, created the first system for national academic standards, revamped the federal student loan program, encouraged states to set up on-the-job apprenticeship programs and launched AmeriCorps, President Clinton's domestic Peace Corps program, which provides education stipends in exchange for community service work.

"During the campaign, President Clinton spoke of putting people first. And at the heart of that was investing in the education, knowledge and skills of the American people," said Bill Galston, a White House domestic policy adviser. "It's clear the Congress heard that core message and responded. This has been an enormously productive Congress for education and training."

The House approved the bill, 262 to 132, but it ran into objections from Helms, who favored language in the House version that would have cut off federal funds to school districts that barred students from participating in constitutionally protected prayers. House-Senate conferees embraced weaker Senate language that terminates funding to districts that are found to have willfully violated a court order upholding a student's right to pray.

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