Senators reach agreement on education bill
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate negotiators have reached agreement with the White House on key elements of an education bill that is a top priority of President Bush. The deal sets the stage for the full Senate to take up the legislation this month.
”We have effectively reached an agreement with the administration and the Senate Republicans on the reauthorization of the education bill,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The deal came after two days of negotiations involving the White House and Republican and Democratic members of the committee, the chairman, Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said they were making ”great progress” on Bush’s priorities and ”the White House is fairly happy with the progress we made.”
Democratic sources said the lawmakers decided to leave some of the more controversial issues for debate and vote on the Senate floor, including the idea backed by the White House but opposed by most Democrats of giving students at failing schools vouchers to attend private or other public schools.
Democratic priorities, including funds to reduce class size and repair crumbling schools, also will be left for later debate.
The sources said they hoped to finish discussion on budget levels on Thursday. The president has promised to boost spending on education and has proposed a $44.5 billion budget for the Education Department, an 11.5 percent increase over the original budget proposal for this year.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has said he wants to take up the education bill on April 23 when the Senate returns from its two-week Easter recess.
The two sides agreed on some of the top goals of Bush’s education agenda, including testing, more school accountability and block grants for schools to upgrade their teaching levels.
Bush has pushed for increased flexibility for schools to spend federal dollars, but wants more accountability by requiring states to test students annually.
The Senate committee last month approved the framework of the education bill, including provisions for annual student testing in math and reading in grades 3 through 8, with rewards for schools that perform well and penalties for those that do not. The federal government would pay half the cost of the testing.
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