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Conferees Act on Trade Bill's School Provisions

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Washington--House-Senate conferees have taken a big step toward agreement on education provisions of the massive trade bill pending before the Congress.

In a meeting last week, the lawmakers accepted staff-negotiated compromises on most provisions and persuaded Senator Edward M. Kennedy to accept half a loaf on behalf of the home-state organization that is the designated beneficiary of the Massachusetts Democrat's "Star Schools" proposal.

The conferees still must resolve conflicts over: a mid-career teacher4training program; whether the Education Department or National Science Foundation would control new facilities grants for colleges; and a proposal by Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, to allow student-loan guarantee agencies to refuse to deal with institutions with high default rates.

A vote on the entire bill--which is to include controversial labor and international-trade provisions--is not expected before next spring. Even if President Reagan did not veto the bill, as threatened, no funding would be available before the next school year.

The education portion of the legislation would authorize a variety of programs, including several repeated in the Senate version of HR 5, the omnibus education reauthorization bill that is to govern those programs after their first fiscal year.

Congressional aides said this was done because some senators wanted to ride this year's "competitiveness" wave and try for fast approval and higher-than-usual funding levels for some programs through the trade bill, while House members insisted that all elementary- and secondary-education programs should be governed by one piece of legislation.

Star Schools, which would fund telecommunications networks created by school-business partnerships, was the only overlapping program not agreed upon at the staff level.

Senator Kennedy's original proposal would have authorized as much as $100 million for the program and set the maximum grant at $20 million, the estimated cost of a network planned for his state.

While HR 5 would limit grants to $10 million and set aside funds for educational programming, the program would be governed by the trade bill for one year; language in a recent Senate appropriations report earmarked the entire $20 million allotted to Star Schools in the accompanying spending bill for the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications.

Mr. Kennedy argued last week that the "concept" should be tried out before more money is spent. While acknowledging that Star Schools is "targeted" to the Massachusetts project, he said, "we are hopeful that the program will be successful and can be replicated throughout the country."

He accepted a compromise that includes a $20-million ceiling, a requirement that grantees provide matching funds equal to 25 percent of their grants, and a provision restricting grants to $10 million a year and $20 million per project.

But House conferees warned him that appropriations panels might not go along. House Appropriations Committee Chairman William H. Natcher, Democrat of Kentucky, "said he does not favor any funding at this time," said Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California.

Mr. Hawkins, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, added that "if we have other applicants [for the money] there will be problems with some members" who have interested constituents.

The conferees also discussed Mr. Pell's default-reduction proposal. House members argued that hearings should be held to determine the causes of the problem, that a trade bill is an inappropriate vehicle, and that the plan would unfairly penalize some colleges and students.

Senate conferees emphasized the urgency of the problem--contending that it could kill the Guaranteed Student Loan program entirely--and suggested that hearings be held before the trade bill is completed.

That conflict was left unresolved, as was the question of whether a scholarship program for people interested in becoming teachers in mid-career will be included in the bill. The House-backed program was authorized by last year's Higher Education Act, but was not funded.

Approved provisions include:

Two $25-million vocational-education programs mirroring differing House and Senate proposals. One would focus on school-business alliances and the other on "traditional" education programs. A separate program promoting school-business partnerships is also included.

Creation of a literacy office in the Education Department; a "literacy corps" program, through which college students would tutor illiterate adults; literacy programs for limited-English-proficient adults, and workplace literacy programs. The latter two are also in HR 5.

Creation of an e.d. office that would disseminate information on federal worker-training technologies.

One-year authorization of foreign-language, basic-skills, dropout-prevention, and mathematics and science programs contained in HR 5.

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