Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

National Math, Reading Tests Fail in House Clinton Priority Can't Pass Muster with Conservative-Liberal Alliance

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

National Math, Reading Tests Fail in House Clinton Priority Can't Pass Muster with Conservative-Liberal Alliance

Article excerpt

An alliance of House conservatives and liberals voted Tuesday to block President Bill Clinton's top educational priority, voluntary national tests in reading and math.

The 295-125 vote occurred on an amendment to an $80 billion spending bill for the Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments. House Democratic leaders had said last week that the testing plan was doomed.

The Senate last week passed its version of the spending bill for the 1998 budget year starting Oct. 1. Before doing so, it overwhelmingly approved an amendment that would let Clinton go forward with the plan to offer reading tests to fourth-graders and math tests to eighth-graders starting in March 1999. The plan called for an independent, bipartisan board to be in charge of the tests. Clinton said the House vote was "unacceptable, and it will not stand." The House action was "a vote for the status quo and against better schools," he said. "They have voted against a plan to improve our schools by raising standards, empowering parents and increasing accountability." Clinton and Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said the administration would work hard to make sure that the testing program is included in the final version of the bill, which will be worked out in negotiations between the House and Senate. Clinton has promised to improve public education, the hallmark of his second term. National testing is one of his top legislative priorities. Education Department officials estimate that it would cost $32 million to design the reading and math tests and up to $100 million to fully implement them. The Senate also passed, 51-49, an amendment converting many Education Department programs into block grants, effectively stripping the department of much of its spending power. The possibility of a comparable amendment being debated in the House led Clinton to issue a veto threat earlier in the day. In the House debate on testing, conservative Republicans joined with black and Hispanic Democrats behind an amendment to prevent the department from spending any more money to develop the tests. The administration wants to begin offering the tests in the spring of 1999. …

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