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Federal FIle: Omissions; Death or bowling?

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Rachel Mason, a senior at Framingham High School, cheered President Clinton last fall as he signed the Improving America's Schools Act at the Massachusetts school. Weeks later, she was named one of 40 state semifinalists in the National Science Scholars program.

But in March, a letter from the Education Department informed her that the program had been canceled by the bill.

"I don't know if I should laugh or cry," she told the Boston Globe.

Each year since 1991, two scholars from each Congressional district have been awarded up to $6,000 over four years.

Though Ms. Mason is not talking to reporters now, her principal, Bob Flaherty, said the Harvard University-bound senior protested to her representatives in Congress. He said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a chief sponsor of the education bill, called her personally to say that the program was inadvertently left out by Education Department officials who drafted the original version of the legislation, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Department officials could not be reached for comment.

But a spokeswoman confirmed that the agency has reversed its decision not to select scholars this year. Whether they--or those chosen last year--get any money will depend on the outcome of a conference this month on a spending-cut bill. The House version would cut the $4.4 million appropriated for the program this year; the Senate bill would not.

"Excellence in science and math has been identified as an important national goal," Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., wrote in a letter to colleagues urging their support.

Even if he succeeds, the program may not be around next year. The President's 1996 budget request would cut the program, arguing that it duplicates other programs.

In introducing President Clinton last week at a conference of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley recalled a recent morning when his wife read him a news story about proposals to shut down the Education Department.

He said it reminded him of a country song called "I Don't Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling."

"If I were you, I'd go bowling," Mr. Clinton said in beginning his remarks. "We're going to save your job."

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