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Dispute Delays House Action on American Defense Education Act

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Washington--Action in the House on a major education-improvement measure promoted extensively by the National Education Association was sidetracked last week when Republican members of an education subcommittee quietly departed from a hearing and Democrats found themselves unable to gather a quorum.

The Democratic chairman of the subcommittee, Representative Carl D. Perkins of Kentucky, was visibly annoyed by the procedural roadblock. He waited almost an hour before rescheduling the mark-up of HR 881, the proposed "American defense education act," for May 8.

Before the Republican members of the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee left the hearing, the panel marked up a bill concerning after-school care for "latchkey" children and two other bills concerning computers in education. The full Education and Labor Committee is scheduled to act on those bills May 10.

Brevity of Debate

The procedural fight over the edu-cation-improvement bill stemmed from Republican committee members' concerns over the brevity of debate on a program that they claimed could increase the Education Department's budget by as much as 66 percent.

By some estimates, programs created under the bill to improve instruction and student achievement in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and technology may cost the federal government close to $10-billion in their first year. The Education Department's budget in the current fiscal year is $15.4 billion.

Although the subcommittee held a number of hearings on the proposal last year, it held only one relatively brief hearing on it the day before the abortive mark-up session.

45-Minute Hearing

"I left a mark-up session in another committee yesterday to come to that hearing, and when I got here I was told that it was already over," said Representative Ronald C. Packer, Republican of California. "That was just 45 minutes after it started.

"Now that's no way to get this bill out of committee," he continued. "I'm a sponsor of this bill, but I can-not support this process."

"If we wait to work out our differences in full committee, it's just going to be chaos, with the majority running over the minority again," added Representative Rod Chandler, Republican of Washington. "I just wish we could hold off on this bill for a few days. We're talking about a major policy decision, the passage of the first real program of general education aid to the states. Pushing it through like this indicates that we're really not serious about this matter."

Other Action

In other action last week, the subcommittee:

Approved HR 4193, a measure that would provide school districts, other public agencies, and nonprofit organizations with up to $30 million annually in grants to offer after-school supervision for the children of working parents. National studies indicate that there are approximately 6,000,000 "latchkey" children between the ages of 6 and 13 in the nation.

Approved a pair of bills dealing with computers in education and agreed to incorporate a third into one of the two when the full commit-tee acts on them this week.

One bill, HR 3750, which is sponsored by Representative Timothy E. Wirth, Democrat of Colorado, would authorize $300 million annually in the fiscal years 1985 through 1994 to help school districts purchase computer hardware. It would also provide the National Science Foundation with $20 million annually over the same period for the development of teacher-training institutes, and with an unspecified amount of additional funds for the evaluation and development of educational software.

The subcommittee agreed to set aside temporarily a proposal to incorporate the language of HR 1134, which is sponsored by Representative Thomas J. Downey, Democrat of New York, into the Wirth bill. Representative Downey's bill would authorize the National Institute of Education to establish a network of regional research centers to evaluate existing educational software and to develop new types.

The panel also approved HR 4628, a computer measure sponsored by Representative Albert Gore Jr., Democrat of Tennessee. The bill would establish a national educational software corporation that would have the authority to provide venture capital to firms that have the ability to produce "high-quality" educational software. The corporation would receive start-up funds of $15 million only; returns on investments in successful software-development projects would then provide the agency with a revolving fund for future investments.

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