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Senate Passes Reauthorization Bill

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Washington--The Senate last week approved by a vote of 97 to 1 a massive omnibus bill that would reauthorize $7.4 billion in education programs. Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, cast the sole vote against the bill, despite his success in attaching an amendment that would prohibit so-called "dial-a-porn" services.

A second amendment, offered by Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, would suspend the Education Department's award of a new grant for operation of the National Center for Research in Vocational Education until an investigation of the selection process is completed. (See story on page 1.)

The "Robert T. Stafford elementary- and secondary-education improvement act," named after the retiring senator from Vermont, would extend a host of education programs through 1993 and create several new ones. The legislation, designated HR 5 to match its House counterpart, includes the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Chapter 2 block grants, bilingual education, impact aid, magnet-schools assistance, and many smaller programs.

Conferees are expected to begin resolving differences between the House and Senate versions early next spring.

The Senate vote came after four hours of largely noncombative, bipartisan oration and the adoption of nine amendments. Among them were provisions adding a new child-development program and echoing language in the House version that would force the Education Department to stop "appropriateness" reviews of National Diffusion Network projects.

The chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the Senate's education subcommittee, delivered the first of many speeches lauding the measure and its namesake, Senator Stafford. The veteran lawmaker, a long-time ally of Mr. Pell's on education issues, is the ranking Republican on the panel.

In a statement, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett also praised provisions designed to identify and improve substandard Chapter 1 programs and to allow a larger percentage of federal funds for bilingual education to go to nontraditional, English-only programs.

Although Mr. Bennett criticized as "unnecessary" some new programs contained in the bill, he said that "[o]n the whole," the Senate measure "is a step forward for education reform."

Opposition From Helms

Mr. Helms said he opposed federal involvement in education, and he objected to a provision of the bill that would expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress to provide state-by-state comparisons of student achievement. Such comparisons, he argued, would force schools to teach to federal standards.

The "dial-a-porn" amendment would write a blanket prohibition on such services across state lines into a law that now bars "obscene or indecent communication for commercial purposes" only when it involves minors or adults who have not consented to hear it.

The amendment was approved unanimously, but Congressional sources predicted it would be dropped during the House-Senate conference on the bill, as was an identical rider Mr. Helms attached to last year's omnibus anti-drug bill.

Pell's Amendments

Senator Pell offered a lengthy package of amendments, most of them technical.

One restored language contained in current law that makes the number of children receiving welfare benefits a factor in the formula for distributing Chapter 1 money to states. That language had earlier been excised on the grounds that disparities between states in welfare benefits, eligibility requirements, and statistics had led to inequities in Chapter 1 allocations.

Mr. Pell agreed to retain the existing language when California legislators complained that their state would face a significant loss of aid under the change.

The amendment calls for a General Accounting Office study on the issue; Senator Pell said adjustments to the law may be attached next year to legislation reauthorizing vocational-education programs.

Another amendment added on his recommendation would bar the Education Department from using a "program significance" panel to determine the "appropriateness" of8education programs applying for funding through the department's National Diffusion Network. Participants in the ndn have denounced the panel as an attempt to impose ideological tests for funding under the program.

The department this year added the program-significance review as a second stage in a process that previously considered only the programs' "effectiveness."

Senator Pell's amendment would also eliminate the position of private-school coordinator added to the n.d.n. at the same time.

The language on the diffusion network is included in the House version of HR 5, but it did not appear in earlier Senate drafts.

Other amendments adopted at the behest of Mr. Pell would:

Decrease the minimum Chapter 1 "concentration grant" from one-half of 1 percent of the total appropriation to one-fourth of 1 percent.

Add initiatives to encourage students' participation in school maintenance to the list of projects the Education Department could support under a new "fund for educational innovation."

Mandate a study by the gao of the construction needs of "federally impacted" schools and the efficacy of a program that funds such projects.

Other Amendments

The Senate also approved an amendment sponsored by Senator Steve Symms, Republican of Idaho, that would prohibit placement of students in federally funded education programs on the basis of their surnames. Mr. Symms cited examples of students with Hispanic names who were placed in bilingual classes although they spoke English and not Spanish.

Other provisions adopted would:

Add to the omnibus bill separate legislation reauthorizing the Indian Education Act.

Increase the authorization for impact aid by about $20 million a year.

Provide a special $4-million grant to Utah for training disabled individuals, a home-state effort by Republican Senator Orrin G. Hatch.

Add to the bill a $300-million child-development program, which would provide grants to Head Start agencies and community groups for comprehensive services to "at risk" youngsters and their parents.

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