YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Clinton Test Plan Suffers House Defeat

Schools: A 295-125 vote denies funding for proposal. But education initiative has many supporters in Senate.


WASHINGTON — In a setback for the White House's top education priority, the House on Tuesday voted to deny funding for President Clinton's proposal to create national reading and math tests for schoolchildren.

The vote was 295 to 125, as a bipartisan coalition of 220 Republicans and 75 Democrats joined in opposing the Clinton proposal. The House's one Independent voted with the minority.

Conservative Republicans opposed the testing plan as an unnecessary federal intrusion into education, while many black, Latino and liberal Democrats complained that the tests would stigmatize children in underprivileged school districts.

The vote--which came on an amendment to a broad social spending bill--puts the House on a collision course with Clinton, whose aides are expected to urge him to veto the spending bill if it blocks the testing plan. But Clinton still has many allies in the Senate, which voted, 87 to 13, last week to finance a compromise version of the testing initiative.

The issue will have to be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee that will meet to iron out differences between the two versions of the spending bill.

GOP critics of national testing were heartened by the strong House vote against the plan, but some acknowledged it will be a tough fight in conference because many Republicans in the Senate backed the testing compromise.

A stalemate or veto fight over the testing program could stall funding for a wide swath of social programs, because the larger bill provides funds for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The proposal for annual national testing of schoolchildren was first suggested by Clinton in his State of the Union speech earlier this year. He is calling for national tests of reading ability for fourth-graders and mathematics ability for eighth-graders. States and school districts would not be required to participate in the testing program, but would be encouraged to do so.

Officials at the Education Department estimate it would cost about $32 million to design the reading and math tests and up to $100 million to fully implement them. The testing is proposed to begin by spring 1999.

Responding to concern that the plan would get the government too closely involved in school curriculum, Clinton backed the Senate-passed compromise that calls for the test to be designed by the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent agency created by Congress.

But that compromise did not satisfy House critics, who rallied around the amendment by Rep. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that would prohibit the use of federal funds to create and implement the tests.

Goodling, who spent years as a school principal and administrator, argued that American students are already tested enough.

"You don't help those who are not doing well in education with one more standardized test to tell them 'You're doing poorly,' " said Goodling. "If we have $100 million to spend, let's help children become reading ready, help parents become better teachers and you don't do that by testing."

Many liberal Democrats--including members of the House's black and Hispanic caucuses--joined such conservatives in opposition, warning that the tests would hurt students in poor districts who are getting inadequate educations through no fault of their own. They argued that tests are a politically appealing alternative to spending programs to improve urban classrooms.

But other Democrats defended Clinton's proposal, saying it did not amount to an unwarranted federal intrusion because participation is voluntary.

Proponents said testing was an important tool for raising academic standards and giving parents a new way to assess schools.

The House also approved an amendment to prohibit use of federal funds to pay for rerunning the 1996 election of Teamsters Union president Ron Carey. A similar amendment won Senate approval.

Los Angeles Times Articles