Congress Takes Up Education Bills

Published April 1, 1999

With elected officials from all points of the political compass eager to demonstrate that their interest in schooling is as great as that of the American public, education has recently been the focus of substantial legislative activity in the nation’s capital.

Democratic Amendments Slow Ed-Flex Bill

A popular bipartisan measure to give states and school districts more flexibility over how they spend federal education dollars stalled in the U.S. Senate for weeks over Democrats’ proposed amendments aimed at advancing the more contentious items of President Clinton’s education agenda. Republicans sought to delay the discussion of such items until later this year, when reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is debated.

The stalemate ended on March 11, when Democratic amendments were defeated and a final 98-1 vote of the Senate approved a bill that would allow states to transfer money targeted for new teachers to special education. The Senate bill must now be reconciled with a House bill that excludes funds for special education but requires more proof from states on how they are meeting students’ needs.

Introduced by Senators William Frist (R-Tennessee) and Ron Ryden (D-Oregon), S.280–the “Ed-Flex” bill–seeks to expand the scope of the 1994 Education Flexibility Partnership Demonstration Act, which gave flexibility to some states in administering certain federal programs so long as program goals were met. Under S.280, all states would be eligible and waivers of more federal education programs would be included.

For some, even Ed-Flex is not bold enough. “Congress should consider further broadening the scope of the current Ed-Flex program to allow more innovation and flexibility while boosting outcomes,” says education analyst Nina Shokraii Rees of The Heritage Foundation. In return for a commitment to boost student academic outcomes, states or large city school districts should be free to consolidate funds from several federal education programs.

The bipartisan bill has become the center of a partisan struggle, with Democrats intent on adding unrelated amendments and Republicans equally determined to keep the bill focused cleanly on the issue of education flexibility. After President Clinton used his weekly radio address to disparage Republican “partisanship,” a clearly frustrated Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) charged that the political maneuvering by Democrats was just to get votes “that could be used in a 30-second commercial.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The text of S. 280 is available on the Internet at The 15-page bill is also available through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for old document #2154605.