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Facing Veto Threat, House Amends, Passes Voc.-Ed. Bill

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Washington--After substantially weakening a provision that Republican members warned could have drawn a Presidential veto, the House last week gave overwhelming approval to legislation extending federal vocational-education assistance for five years.

The bill, which would make major changes in the formula for distributing federal funds to vocational-education programs, passed by a 402-to-3 vote.

Before approving the measure, however, House members added a provision that could provoke strong opposition in the Senate and, if it becomes law, possibly lead to a court battle.

The amendment would withhold vocational-education funds from school districts that prohibited voluntary prayer.

Offered by Representative William E. Dannemeyer, Republican of California, the amendment was adopted on a 269-to-135 vote.

Supporters of the amendment said it would only apply to districts that had a stated policy barring voluntary prayers in schools.

But critics questioned the proposal's constitutionality.

"If there is one thing the First2p4Amendment of the Constitution is very clear about in all of the cases regarding prayer in public schools, it is that the government shall not be tilting toward religion," said Representative Don Edwards, Democrat of California.

"If we are serious about this very valuable bill and want to see it declared unconstitutional, we can just add this unconstitutional amendment to it," Mr. Edwards said.

In 1987, the House added a similar provision to the omnibus education-reauthorization bill. The Senate refused to accept the amendment, however, and it died in conference.

Skirting a Veto

Although they may have added a new element of controversy to the bill, House members also acted to scale back a section of the measure that had been sharply criticized by Bush Administration officials.

Sponsored in the Education and Labor Committee by Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana, the provision would have limited the Office of Management and Budget's oversight authority of research and reports mandated in the bill.

Representative Steve Bartlett, Republican of Texas, said the Administration had "made it crystal clear" that the section restricting8the o.m.b. was unacceptable and that the President would veto the bill if it was retained.

By voice vote, the House accepted a compromise amendment worked out between Mr. Williams and Representative William Goodling of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on the Education and Labor Committee.

The compromise plan would require the General Accounting Office to investigate if reports or regulations under the law were not issued by their deadlines. The final version retained a part of Mr. Williams's amendment that required the o.m.b. to publish and explain any changes made in vocational-education regulations proposed by the Education Department.

"O.m.b. clearly has run amok and needs to be reined in," said Mr. Williams. "But I accept the reality that we need to get this bill passed."

New Formula Phased In

The House also adopted by voice vote an amendment to phase in the bill's new in-state funding formula over three years.

The measure, which would authorize funding of $1.4 billion in its first year, would establish a new method for directing 80 percent of state aid to local districts.

The new plan would distribute funds to each district according to the following formula: 70 percent on the number of Chapter 1 students; 20 percent on the number of handicapped students; and 10 percent on overall enrollment.

The legislation would eliminate a variety of funding "set asides" in existing law, including those reserved for the disadvantaged, the handicapped, and other special groups.

Under the hold-harmless amendment approved by the House, districts would be assured during the first year of the act of receiving no less than 80 percent of the average level of federal funding they had received in the preceding three years. In the second and third years, districts would receive at least 80 percent of the previous year's level.

Another amendment adopted by the House would allow some funds to be allocated directly to area vocational schools serving several school districts. The amount of funds would be determined by the number of vocational-education students from surrounding districts that were disadvantaged, handicapped, or of limited English proficiency.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where the Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee is expected to begin hearings in September.

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