Key Bills Pending as Session Nears Close
Washington--As the Congress headed into the final days of its 1988 session, the fate of some key education-related bills remained in doubt.
With an eye on the November elections, both Republicans and Democrats maneuvered for political advantage on bills providing federal subsidies for day care and greatly expanding aid for drug-education programs.
At least in part because of political factors, the day-care bill became linked in the Senate to an even more controversial measure requiring employers to allow workers to take time off to care for small children or the sick.
Largely because of the electoral appeal of the war on drugs, a wide-ranging anti-drug bill had some chance of approval--but only if the Senate and House could resolve several politically charged issues, including cutting off student aid to drug offenders.
Meanwhile, other bills of significance to educators were moving towards final approval. Most importantly, the Congress cleared a major welfare-reform bill that would emphasize education and training programs for welfare recipients. And the House passed bills aimed at helping schools tackle the health dangers posed by radon and lead in drinking water.
Members of the Congress hoped by the end of this week to complete action on legislation and adjourn for the year.
Senate Democrats continued late last week to push a two-pronged bill offering unpaid leave for parents to care for children and subsidizing child care for low- and middle-income families.
It was unclear, however, whether sponsors would be able to muster the 60 votes needed to approve a procedural motion limiting debate on the measure.
The Senate was expected to consider the procedural motion on Friday. If it failed, chances of the parental-leave component's passage would be "very greatly diminished," according to an aide to Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat of Connecticut and a sponsor of both measures. However, the aide noted, the child-care portion might still be able to advance on its own.
The Senate agreed last week to consider the parental-leave and child-care bills as a single package.
Democrats proposed merging the bills to avert a Republican filibuster against the parental-leave bill, which has faced strong opposition from business lobbyists.
By merging the two measures, Democratic sponsors hoped to put some pre-election political pressure on Republicans not to oppose the bill, which also includes a Republican-sponsored amendment imposing further penalties on the distribution of child pornography. Family issues have emerged as a key theme in the Presidential campaign.
Mr. Dodd said last week that he had worked out an agreement with Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, to make some modifications in the child-care component. And a compromise on parental leave was possible, he said.
Senator Hatch, who proposed his own child-care measure last year, contended last week that neither Presidential candidate "really wants child care to come through this year," because both "want the opportunity of having their stamp on the legislation next year."
Although he opposes the parental-leave measure, Mr. Hatch said, "if we have a chance at all of doing something on child care, then I think we should do it this year."
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole of Kansas last week acknowledged the political pressures faced by his party colleagues. "I do not want tomorrow morning's headlines, written by the liberal media that cover this place, to report that Republicans are frustrating the efforts of Democrats on child-care legislation," he said.
Both proposals face substantial resistance within the education community. The National School Boards Association and several other groups have opposed the parental-leave bill on the grounds that it could disrupt school schedules. And some, including the National Education Association, have reservations about the child-care bill because of questions about aid to centers operated by religious institutions.
The agreement worked out between Mr. Dodd and Mr. Hatch does not address the church-state issue, which is likely to be taken up when the House considers the measure.
The Dodd-Hatch compromise would expand the membership of a national commission on day-care standards and allow states to seek a one-year waiver if they have trouble complying with a specific standard.
Mr. Dodd also agreed to work with Mr. Hatch in fashioning a separate proposal that would provide tax credits to help defray child-care costs for parents, including those who care for children at home. Vice President George Bush has proposed such a program.
The omnibus anti-drug bill introduced last week by Senate leaders would dramatically increase the funding ceiling of the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, increase penalties for certain drug offenses involving children and schools, and create a National Commission on Drug-Free Schools.
The bill, S 2852, contains more education-related components than its House counterpart, HR 5210. But it does not include House-passed provisions denying student aid and other federal benefits to convicted drug offenders.
That and other controversial proposals are likely to be offered as amendments when the Senate considers the bill this week. Liberal Senators have vowed to block the bill if the amendments are approved.
Even if the Senate passes a bill, the many differences between the two versions would still have to be resolved in a House-Senate conference. Although there was little time for that before adjournment, lawmakers in both parties were eager to pass an anti-drug measure before the upcoming election. So observers saw a chance that the bill might become law.
Education-related provisions of S 2852 would:
Increase the appropriations ceiling for the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act from $250 million to $405 million in 1989, reaching $651.5 million by 1993.
Create a separate, $16-million authorization for teacher-training grants, which could be funded only in years when the drug-free schools program received an appropriation of at least $230 million.
Increase penalties for adults who involve minors in drug offenses, for buying drugs from a minor, and for possession at or near a school, playground or other youth-oriented facility of an amount of drugs indicative of intent to sell.
Instruct the Education Department, in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services, to draft a model anti-drug curriculum for very young children.
Create a $15-million Justice Department program to aid the juvenile-justice system in dealing with youthful drug offenders, and provide money for projects to lower rates of school crime, combat youth gangs, reduce gang involvement in drugs, and involve gangs in lawful activities.
Establish a National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, to be headed by the Secretary of Education and the Director of National Drug-Control Policy--a federal "drug czar," whose office would be created by the legislation. The commission would report to the Congress on how to define a "drug-free" school, and on the costs and benefits of various approaches, including separating drug users from other students and denying student aid to drug offenders.
The Congress has given final approval to legislation making sweeping changes in the nation's welfare system.
The bill emphasizes education, job training, and work programs to enable welfare recipients to become self-sufficient.
Under the bill, parents on welfare with children over age 3 will be required to enroll in state education or job-training programs.
The President is expected to sign the bill this week.
The House last week approved separate bills aimed at helping schools combat two major environmental threats--radon and lead in drinking water.
The radon measure authorizes a total of $42 million over the next three years for state programs identifying and reducing radon levels in homes and schools. Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that seeps into buildings through their foundations. Scientists believe it can cause lung cancer.
The Senate has already passed a similar bill.
The other House-passed legislation would provide states with up to $30 million a year for three years, to help schools test for and remedy lead contamination of their drinking water. States could also receive a total of $66 million for screening programs to determine the blood levels of lead in infants and children, who can suffer a variety of serious health problems from exposure to the element.
The House bill also requires manufacturers of water coolers to recall all models with lead or lead-lined tanks.