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Congress Backs Bill Requiring Schools To Have Anti-Drug Policies To Get Aid

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Washington--The Congress has given final approval to a measure that would require schools to have anti-drug programs in place as a condition for receiving federal funds.

The bill, which earmarks an additional $183.5 million for drug education, would also direct more drug funds to poorer districts and encourage states to enact legislation creating drug-free school zones.

In addition, it would allow states to give federal drug money to districts seeking to establish drug-testing programs for students voluntarily participating in athletic activities.

Both the House and the Senate had passed different versions of the drug-education bill this fall. Last week, after a heated conference-committee meeting, Senate conferees acceded to language in the House version prohibiting the Secretary of Education from dictating the exact content of drug-education programs.

Under the measure passed, schools that do not certify to state officials by Oct. 1, 1990, that they have anti-drug programs and policies could lose all federal funding. The Secretary can grant exemptions until April 1, 1991.

The final bill requires that drug-education programs contain "age-appropriate, developmentally based" information. House members had expressed concern that this provision, if unamended, would require the government to draft regulations defining these terms and, thus, dictating curriculum. The provision was amended in committee to ensure that ed could not specify the curriculum.

In the conference-committee meeting, Senator Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican who had introduced the unamended provision in the Senate, said the House language would effectively make the statute unenforceable, since the department would not be able to determine which curricula were acceptable.

"If the local school board can nullify a federal requirement, then this is not a federal program," he said.

The issue was brought up once again on the floor of the Senate, right before the bill was approved.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, expressed concern that the House amendments would weaken the Gramm provisions, say8ing they could "be ignored by schools unless the Secretary of Education has strong authority to mandate the comprehensive curriculum required by the legislation."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, responded: "He can mandate comprehensive curriculum; he just can't write the curriculum himself."

Representatives from education groups said last week they were pleased the House's language had been adopted.

"We think it would be difficult for the department to enforce it," said Nick Penning, director of legislation for the American Association of School Administrators.

Edward R. Kealy, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association, noted, however, that the law marks the first time the federal government has mandated the teaching of a subject area.

"It's just a matter of time before some other issue will become as important as drugs," he said. "It could be a precedent that could come back to haunt us."--ef

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