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House Republicans Drop Plans for DC Schools

House Republican leaders last week agreed to drop some of their more drastic plans for overhauling the governance of the District of Columbia and its public schools.

The GOP leaders still plan to cut the city's budget. But they will leave the decisions on what to cut to the control board set up by Congress to oversee the troubled city's financial affairs. The $4.87 billion spending limit the bill would set is $260 million less than the control board recommended and at least $80 million less than the city spent in 1995.

Moreover, House Republican leaders said they will drop a long list of proposals that local officials had denounced as infringing on the city's home rule. The agreement came during a meeting between House GOP leaders and Andrew F. Brimmer, the chairman of the control board.

Late last month, a House appropriations subcommittee had approved a measure that would have cut school board members' pay, required local officials to contract for the private management of some schools, and created a panel to oversee education reform in the District of Columbia schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1995.)

The Senate has already passed a companion measure that would create a less powerful advisory panel for the school system.

Goals 2000 Revisions

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced legislation last week that would revise the Goals 2000: Educate America Act--and perhaps increase its chances for survival.

Mr. Specter, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over education, included money for the Clinton administration's education-reform program in his panel's 1996 spending bill despite opposition from many other Republicans. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1995.)

The counterpart House bill would kill the program, which provides grants to states and districts to draft and implement reform plans based on challenging academic standards the states must agree to set. Critics say the program could lead to greater federal control over local schools.

"I agree that there are no strings attached that are intrusive," Mr. Specter said in a speech on the Senate floor, but "let us see if we cannot move ahead and find a way to accommodate those who may have a contrary view."

Mr. Specter, who is courting moderate Republicans in a bid for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, said he hopes his proposal reduces opposition in Congress as lawmakers prepare for final negotiations on 1996 funding and pave the way for the four holdout states to join the reform effort.

His plan would allow districts to apply for direct federal funding if their states decline to participate in Goals 2000.

The bill would also eliminate a requirement that states submit their reform plans for the U.S. secretary of education's approval, and delete provisions specifying what groups must be represented on the panels that draft the state plans. Finally, it would formally eliminate the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, a body created under the Goals 2000 law to review national and state standards.

S.S.I. Report

The final report of a congressionally mandated panel strongly recommends maintaining cash benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program only for the most severely disabled children, although some panel members argued that too many children would be dropped from the program if Congress were to follow its recommendation.

The 123-page document fleshes out recommendations that the National Commission on Childhood Disability made last summer in an effort to keep pace with congressional action on welfare-reform measures that include changes in the ssi program. The report also analyzes health-care coverage for disabled children and notes areas where research is lacking.

The $4.5 billion ssi program, which provides cash benefits of up to $458 a month to more than 900,000 disabled children and their families, has been the target of widely publicized charges of fraud. (See Education Week, July 12 and March 29, 1995.)

The panel largely rejected such claims as unfounded. But it recommended tightening eligibility standards to ensure that only severely disabled children receive benefits, while retaining Medicaid eligibility for children with less severe disabilities.

Four of the panel's 14 members dissented from the report, arguing that too many children would be shut out under such a policy.

Limited copies of the report are available free from the National Commission on Childhood Disability, 801 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 625, Washington, D.C. 20004; (202) 272-2228.

Layoff Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to decide whether labor unions have legal standing to sue on behalf of their members for violations of a 1988 federal law that requires 60 days' notice before mass layoffs.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which applies to school districts, states that unions may sue on behalf of their members to enforce the provisions of the law. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled earlier this year that, in layoff circumstances, unions do not have legal standing under federal court rules and that workers must file their own suits to win remedies under the law.

The high court agreed Oct. 16 to hear the appeal in United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 751 v. Brown Group Inc. (Case No. 95-340).

Separately, the court rejected an appeal by the Citadel of lower-court rulings requiring it to set up a separate leadership program for women to avoid admitting them to the all-male, state-supported military institution in Charleston, S.C. The appeal was Jones v. Faulkner (No. 95-258)

The high court has already agreed to review the all-male status of Virginia Military Institute, a case that will address the same legal issues as the Citadel case. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1995.)

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