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Measures Seek To Insure Equal Opportunities for Girls, Boys

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WASHINGTON--Spurred by a report arguing that the American education system shortchanges girls, lawmakers last week announced a $360 million package of legislation designed to make sure schools offer the same opportunities to girls as to boys.

The omnibus measure is made up of nine separate bills, some of which had previously been introduced. The plan would establish an office of women's equity within the Education Department, encourage the recruitment and retraining of female mathematics and science teachers, and authorize grants to address sexual harassment and abuse.

The initiative would also establish a $250 million grant program in the Education Department to encourage coordination among parents, schools, and social-service agencies in providing support services for at-risk youths of both sexes, such as child nutrition, health education, and counseling.

The package would provide a total authorization of $360 million. Sponsors acknowledged that some of the money for the new programs would probably come from existing funding, but did not spell out specifics.

The package "will help make schools an environment where girls are nurtured and respected ... and where they are encouraged to excel in every subject, not just those deemed 'appropriate' for girls,'' Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said in testimony last week before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education.

The "gender equity in education act'' is intended to become a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now being reauthorized by Congress.

The equity act was put together by members of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. In addition to Ms. Schroeder, the primary sponsors are Reps. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Me.; Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich.; and Patsy T. Mink, D-Hawaii.

'Pervasive' Discrimination Seen

Bill supporters said they were encouraged by the backing of Mr. Kildee, who chairs the elementary and secondary subcommittee.

"What makes this bill so exciting,'' Mr. Kildee told a press briefing, "is putting all these ideas, this human-dignity issue, under one umbrella.''

As a former high school teacher, Mr. Kildee said, he has seen at first hand how young women are given short shrift by teachers. Similar incidents were detailed in last year's American Association of University Women report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls,'' which helped inspire the legislation. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1992.)

"Women are still very often not treated in our educational system as they should be,'' Mr. Kildee added in an interview.

Despite the existence of Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, Ms. Mink told the subcommittee, "the deterioration of federal leadership in this area and the pervasive nature of sex discrimination in our educational institutions has allowed inequities to continue.''

One of the bills in the equity initiative would expand the role of the 1974 Women's Educational Equity Act,which Ms. Mink said has been "decimated'' by cutbacks and neglect.

In expanding WEEA, the new bill would create the office of women's equity to oversee and coordinate equity programs throughout the Education Department and provide technical assistance and money to school districts and community organizations to create programs designed to eliminate inequities for students.

Other bills in the proposal would:

  • Create programs to provide teacher training in identifying and eliminating inequitable practices in the classroom and amend the E.S.E.A. by specifying that teacher training programs in gender equity are an allowable use of funds.
  • Require federally funded education data to be collected, analyzed, and cross-tabulated by factors including gender, if "technically and economically feasible.''
  • Expand the definition of "effective-schools programs'' to include an environment free from sexual harassment and abuse. The legislation also would authorize federal health-education funds to be used to combat sexual harassment and assault.

Funding Prospects Uncertain

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the A.A.U.W., said one of the values of the omnibus measure is that "it gives stimulus to the local level as well as expectations for delivery.''

The initiative helps acknowledge that "gender equity is part of the big education-reform movement today,'' Ms. Bryant said.

Still, whether the new package will lead to significant new funding is uncertain, given the tight overall fiscal climate.

Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the elementary and secondary panel, said that while he was not familiar with the specifics of the proposal, he agreed with attempts to encourage female math and science teachers and to coordinate services.

Mr. Goodling added, however, that along with the act's proposed spending, its supporters probably would also have to suggest offsetting savings in existing programs.

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