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Federal File: House To Debate Plan for School Telecomm Access

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Supporters of educational access to advanced information networks were hoping late last week to amend a telecommunications-reform measure pending in the House to insure reduced tolls for schools on the so-called information highway.

They hoped to persuade the House Rules Committee to allow floor consideration of a proposed amendment to HR 1555, the "communications act of 1995," that would guarantee schools "affordable" access to telecommunications. Schools now are charged costlier business rates.

The bill, as written, guarantees only that schools will have access to the networks and calls for a joint federal-state panel to help devise a rate structure for schools.

The language of the amendment is designed to make the House bill more compatible with a similar Senate measure, S 652, the proposed "telecommunications competition and deregulation act of 1995," which expressly addresses affordability. (See Education Week, 6/21/95.)

The Rules Committee was expected to complete work on a host of amendments to the telecommunications bill late last week.

A floor vote on the House measure, which has been held up for weeks by disputes over other regulatory issues, could come as early as this week.

Service Leadership: President Clinton has announced that he will name former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., to head the Corporation for National Service.

Mr. Wofford is to replace Eli Segal as the chief executive officer of the corporation, which runs AmeriCorps and other service programs. Mr. Segal would become a member of the board of directors of the corporation, according to the White House announcement on the appointments. No date was set for the change.

The shift in leadership comes at a critical time for AmeriCorps, which is under siege from Republican lawmakers seeking to kill the year-old program. The President is apparently hoping that a former colleague will prove to be an effective advocate.

AmeriCorps members receive $4,725 for education costs and minimum-wage stipends in exchange for 1,700 hours of work in community-based programs focusing on education, health, construction, and other projects.

Critics argue that AmeriCorps is too costly and undermines unpaid volunteerism. The program's funding would be eliminated beginning Oct. 1 under one spending bill that has already been approved by the House. Mr. Clinton has said he will veto the bill, in part to protect AmeriCorps.

Before being defeated in his 1994 Senate re-election bid, Mr. Wofford was part of a bipartisan group that drafted legislation to create AmeriCorps.

Disability 'Myths': The National Council on Disability has launched a campaign to correct what it says is misinformation in the news media about a landmark 1990 law that essentially prohibits any type of discrimination against the disabled.

The public-relations offensive by the independent federal agency was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the July 25 release of the group's report, "Voices of Freedom: America Speaks Out on the A.D.A."

The report, which includes anecdotes from 50 town meetings held across the country, outlines what the group calls "myths" surrounding the law. Charges that it has resulted in numerous lawsuits and excessive costs for businesses and local and state governments are largely unfounded, the report says. Some conservatives have cited such criticisms in calling for repeal of the law.

"Investigation reveals that the vast majority of these criticisms are based on misinformation or a focus on extreme situations," the report maintains. In the area of employment, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has received nearly 45,000 complaints over the past five years, but the agency has filed only 71 lawsuits, the report said.

The A.D.A. has had a lesser impact on schools and colleges, as they were already subject to antidiscrimination rules in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which apply to institutions receiving federal funds, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees disabled children a public education.

Copies of the report are available free from the National Council on Disability, 1331 F St., N.W., Suite 1050, Washington, D.C. 20004-1107; fax: (202) 272-2022.

Goals 2000 Grants: The Education Department last month awarded second-year funding under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act to 12 states, the first to receive grants for a second year of participation in the reform initiative.

Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington State received the awards. Second-year funding is to be used to implement statewide school-improvement plans that include challenging academic and performance standards.

However, of the states to receive second-year awards, the department has approved the school-improvement plans of only Kentucky, Oregon, and Utah. The remaining states received their awards under a provision in the law that allows grants to be issued if states are considered by the department to be making "substantial progress" toward completing their plans.

Pruning Regulations: The Education Department says it will have eliminated or revised 93 percent of its regulations by the time it completes a comprehensive review.

In a news release last month, the agency pledged to get rid of 56 percent of its regulations entirely.

The announcement came as Vice President Gore sought to highlight the Clinton Administration's regulatory-review initiative.

In March, President Clinton urged all federal agencies to review regulations in an effort to limit the regulatory and paperwork burden on grant recipients.

Literacy Strategies: No clear strategy exists at either the federal or state level to achieve the national education goal of insuring a literate citizenry that has the skills to compete in the global economy, says a report from the federal agency charged with directing efforts to meet the goal.

The report, "Equipped for the Future: A Customer-Driven Vision for Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning," was released last month by the National Institute for Literacy.

While adults were able to define many of the characteristics needed to fulfill the goal, the report finds that adult-education and -training programs are "fragmented by the competing eligibility and performance requirements of multiple state and federal funding sources."

Copies of the report are free from the institute, Suite 200, 800 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington. D.C. 20202; fax: (202) 632-1512.

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