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Returning Congress Faces Variety of Education-Related Bills

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Washington--Members of the House and Senate faced a myriad of education-related measures when they returned to work last week following a five-week recess.

The passage of an appropriations bill for the Education Department, as usual in late September, was the top item on their education agenda. (See related story on page 1.)

But the Representatives and Senators were also confronted by a variety of other topics remaining on their legislative schedules, including school prayer, a mathematics and science initiative, and a summit conference on education.

Early this year, leaders of the Congress set Oct. 28 as their target date for adjournment. Capitol Hill observers, however, predict that the current session will probably last until the Thanksgiving holiday.

Between now and then, the House and Senate are expected to address some of the following items:

Mathematics and science education. The Senate is expected to vote either late this month or early next month on a $425-million measure enabling public and private schools to improve the quality of mathematics and science instruction. The House approved a $400-million version of the bill on March 2.

Observers say odds for the bill's passage are excellent. Its supporters fear, however, that it may become a "Christmas tree"--a place to which unrelated amendments are added--because of the widespread belief that it will be enacted.

Civil rights. The Senate Judiciary Committee and one of its subcommittees were scheduled to hold two key votes last week regarding the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On Sept. 15, the full committee's members were to vote on President Reagan's three nominees to the six-member commission.

The following day, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution planned to vote on a measure that would extend the life of the 26-year-old rights-monitoring agency. Its current authorization expires on Sept. 30.

A majority of the commission's current members have been very critical of the President's positions on such issues such as school desegregation, women's equity, and the education of the handicapped.

Mr. Reagan has already appointed two members to the panel, as well as its staff director. Should the Senate approve the three pending nominations, the President will have appointed five of the commission's six members.

The House has already passed its version of the bill reauthorizing the commission. That bill, however, contains language allowing a President to dismiss commission members only for neglect of duty or miscon-duct of office.

Thus, that bill would prevent Mr. Reagan from removing the commission's current members.

Vocational education. Congressional aides indicate that leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee will introduce a bill late this month that would alter the existing Vocational Education Act of 1963.

The act is scheduled to expire at the end of September 1984. If the Congress fails to reauthorize the act by that time, a section of the General Education Provisions Act guarantees that it will be automatically extended for an additional year.

According to the aides, the House bill will be closely modeled on one drafted by the American Vocational Association.

The House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education plans to schedule hearings on the measure prior to the Congress's adjournment.

The Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities plans to hold hearings on vocational education in late October.

School prayer. The Senate is expected to consider one, or possibly two, proposed constitutional amendments regarding prayer in public schools.

On July 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the full chamber two proposed amendments without recommendation. The first, which is supported by President Reagan, would permit voluntary, organized prayer in public schools.

It also states that no one would be required to participate in religious services.

The second, which is favored by the committee's chairman, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, would simply allow silent prayer or meditation in public schools. It would also give students the right to use school facilities for religious purposes during nonclass hours.

House leaders have indicated no willingness to act on either of the measures should they be approved by the Senate.

Technical amendments to the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981. House and Senate conferees are expected to iron out minor differences in the bills they passed to clarify and correct mistakes in the legislation that created the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged children and the Chapter 2 program of block grants to states.

Among other things, the bills extend so-called "Category B" impact-aid payments to school districts through September 1984.

Those payments are currently scheduled to cease at the end of this month.

The bills also retain current eligibility requirements for the Chapter 1 program for migrant students and reinstate Chapter 1 "concentration grants" for districts that enroll a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

School repair and renovation. The House is scheduled next week to take up a public-works bill that would provide $700 million to educational institutions for repairs and renovations.

Under the bill, 75 percent of that amount would be set aside for elementary and secondary schools. The remainder is earmarked for postsecondary institutions.

The measure is said to stand a good chance of passage in the House, but will most likely face strong opposition in the Senate.

School-desegregation assistance. Observers say that support is growing in the House and Senate for legislation that would re-enact the Emergency School Aid Act, which provided aid to school districts undergoing desegregation.

Measures pending in both chambers would remove school-desegregation assistance from the list of authorized expenses in the Chapter 2 block-grants program and create a new program with a $177-million authorization level.

Congressional aides and lobbyists have predicted that the proposal may be offered on the Senate floor as an amendment to the mathematics-and-science improvement bill now under consideration.

Education summit conference. The House and Senate are considering measures calling for a "national summit conference on education" before the end of the year.

The meeting's participants, which would include parents, teachers, businessmen, education officials, and state leaders, would be charged with developing "workable educational solutions" in response to the findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Education and other groups that have studied the quality of the nation's schools.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, while remaining opposed to the measures, recently indicated that he would convene a similar meeting.

Tuition tax credits, education vouchers, education savings accounts, and 'self-help' grants. Observers say that enactment of any of these proposals, all strongly supported by the Reagan Administration, is highly unlikely.

The tax-credit measure, which would provide the parents of children in private schools with a credit of up to $100 in 1983, $200 in 1984, and $300 in 1985, was approved by the Senate Finance Committee in late May.

Opponents of the bill, however, have threatened to filibuster it if it comes to the Senate floor.

A similar measure has been introduced in the House and referred to that chamber's Ways and Means Committee.

The chairman, Representative Dan Rostenkowski, Democrat of Illinois, has indicated no willingness to take action on it.

Bills that would provide low-income parents with vouchers that could be used to pay for private-school tuition have been introduced in both chambers. Hearings were held by the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education but no further action is anticipated. The Senate bill remains to be acted on.

No action has been taken in either chamber on the President's proposal to create a new system of "education savings accounts" to encourage parents to save for their children's college education. There has also been no action on his proposal to require college students to pay for 40 percent of their college costs before they could become eligible for a federal "self-help" grant.

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