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The federal government should step in to coordinate local programs aimed at fostering literacy in the South, a new Congressional study argues.

The report, titled "Meeting the Economic Challenge of the 1990s: Workforce Literacy in the South," was prepared for the Congressional Sunbelt Caucus, a bipartisan group of members from 16 Southern states.

The report recommends that the govern6ment play an oversight role in efforts to improve the quality and accountability of "fragmented" state and private-sector literacy efforts, according to Rachel Perry, a spokesman for Representative David E. Price.

Representative Price, a Democrat from North Carolina, heads the caucus's Literacy Task Force.

The caucus contends that "the South is still the least educated region in the country" and is losing ground in the struggle to train workers for an increasingly technical job market, said Ms. Perry.

A new national resource center will focus on the problems faced by "latch-key" children.

The center, launched last week, is sponsored by the American Home Economics Association and the Whirlpool Foundation.

The resource center will be operated by "Project Home Safe," a $1.1-million program established last year by Whirlpool and ahea to encourage research on children who return home from school while their parents are still at work.

The resource center includes a library and a computerized data base of research studies, model programs, legislation, and other information about school-age child care. The center has a toll-free telephone number: 1-800-252-safe.

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