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Conferees Reach Tentative Agreement On Education Issues in Child-Care Bill

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By Deborah Cohen

House and Senate tax-writing panels, which remained bogged down on budget issues last week, must still reconcile remaining differences involving tax-credit components of the child-care measure. But House and Senate leaders are still pressing for its passage before the Congress adjourns.

According to staff members, the plan worked out by conferees from the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee would earmark 59 percent of the $1.75 billion authorized for child-care services toward a new block-grant program designed to help families pay for care and to improve its quality and availability.

Eleven percent of the funds would go toward expanding Head Start programs to provide full-day, full-year services, and the remaining 30 percent would go toward school-based preschool and before- and after-school child care.

Compromise on Contractors

While the House bill would have given districts the option to contract with private providers for child care, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, in an effort to ensure a role for churches and community groups, had pressed for a mandate that schools contract with other providers.

To appease Mr. Hatch, whose support is considered crucial to winning G.O.P. backing, conferees have forged a compromise that would require states, after distributing two-thirds of their funds for school-based care to districts on a formula basis, to reserve one-third for "supplemental grants."

Districts would be eligible for the supplemental aid only if they agreed to use one-third of their basic grants to contract out for services or to serve one-third of their children through contracts with other agencies.

Districts able to demonstrate that there was no suitable public or private agency in the community would qualify for the grants if they agreed to use one-third of the basic grant to help develop other providers in the community. States could use any unused supplemental-grant funds to make direct grants to public and private providers.

House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee conferees, meanwhile, have tentatively backed a plan to create a child-care entitlement program under Title IV of the Social Security Act, rather than earmarking aid for child care under the Title XX social-services block grant. But other issues remain to be settled, including how to incorporate child-care standards proposed in the House bill and how to resolve differences over child-care and health-care tax credits proposed under the measure.

The tax-credit components of the plan are considered essential to winning White House support.

Administration officials have repeatedly threatened that President Bush would veto a child-care bill establishing a grant program such as the one contained in the education conferees' plan. But observers say it would be politically difficult for him to do so shortly before the November elections.

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