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Senate Committee Backs 'Smart Start' Legislation

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Washington--The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week approved legislation authorizing up to $1 billion a year in federal grants for comprehensive education progams for 4-year-olds.

Before endorsing the bill, however, the panel added an amendment aimed at ensuring that the initiative does not compete for funds with the government's existing early-childhood-education efforts.

The "Smart Start" bill, sponsored by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the committee, would provide matching grants for state and local education agencies to establish education, health, and nutrition programs in schools and other facilities.

Two-thirds of the grants would be targeted toward the children of families whose income is below 115 percent of the federally defined poverty level. The remainder would be allocated to children regardless of need.

The funding level authorized in the bill would rise from $500 million in fiscal 1990 to $1 billion in 1992 through 1994.

Committee aides said the funding safeguards were added by the panel to appease child-care advocates, who had argued at hearings that Smart Start would drain limited federal resources from other early-childhood programs.

The amendment would bar appropriations for Smart Start unless the Chapter 1 program received $325 million more than its current level of $4.5 billion.

The provision also would allow funding for Smart Start only if lawmakers added $250 million to the $1.2-billion Head Start program and $59 million to the $247 million allotted to preschool programs under the Education of the Handicapped Act.

The bill would distribute Smart Start funds according to a formula based on each state's number of children and fiscal strength. If the annual appropriation for the program fell below $50 million, however, grants would be awarded on a competitive basis.

The bill was approved on a vote of 10 to 6. Senator James M. Jeffords, Republican of Vermont, joined committee Democrats in voting for the bill.

No date has been set for floor action on the measure.--pw

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