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Measure Would Relax School Nutrition Mandates

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A House committee approved legislation last week that would give school districts more flexibility in meeting new federal nutritional mandates for school meals.

The nutritional guidelines, which are to go into effect in the fall under provisions added to the National School Lunch Act in 1994, require lunches and breakfasts that are lower in fat and salt.

HR 2066, which was approved on a voice vote May 1 by the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, would allow school officials to use any "reasonable approach" to meeting the guidelines. The bill would also prohibit the Department of Agriculture, which operates the meals programs, from requiring a school to use a potentially expensive and complicated nutrient analysis.

During the 1994 reauthorization, Congress rejected the USDA's proposal to require the use of such analyses. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman has recommended that states conduct nutrient analyses to measure schools' compliance with the requirements.

A companion measure to HR 2066 was introduced in the Senate in March, but that chamber has yet to take it up.

Affirmative Action Appeal

The state of Texas last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that barred racial preferences aimed at promoting student diversity in college admissions.

The March 18 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which involves the University of Texas Law School, shocked higher education officials. They fear that the decision, if allowed to stand, could spell the end for most affirmative action practices.

In its appeal in Texas v. Hopwood (Case No. 95-1773), the state argues that universities have a compelling interest in ensuring diverse enrollments and that states should have wide latitude to set admissions policies.

Reviews Denied

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to revive a lawsuit by a mother who argued that a California school district should be forced to pay private school tuition because it allegedly failed to teach her son and other children to read.

Lourdes Gutierrez claimed that after five years in a public elementary school in the Santa Ana district, her son was functionally illiterate. Her suit asked that the school be closed and the operating funds distributed to parents in the form of vouchers they could use to pay tuition at private schools.

Two California courts said the state did not recognize a legal claim of educational malpractice. A state appellate court added that literacy is influenced by a host of factors outside the teaching process.

The Supreme Court declined without comment on April 29 to review the mother's appeal in Gutierrez v. Santa Ana School District (No. 95-1451).

Also last week, the high court let stand a federal appeals court ruling invalidating a South Dakota law that required doctors to notify one parent before performing an abortion on a minor.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that the law violated Supreme Court precedents requiring some judicial bypass procedure in state laws that limit abortions for minors. Those processes allow a minor to go before a judge to receive permission for an abortion rather than notify or obtain the consent of a parent.

Three justices said they would hear the case, Janklow v. Planned Parenthood (No. 95-856), but four votes are needed to accept an appeal. Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, said in a written statement that it was questionable whether a parental-notice rule is unconstitutional without a judicial bypass.

Immigration Reform

The Senate last week approved a broad immigration-reform bill on a 97-3 vote--without debating a House proposal to allow states to bar illegal-immigrant children from receiving a free public education.

The House added the provision to its bill by a vote of 257-163. Many observers had expected a similar amendment to surface in the Senate, but supporters apparently agreed not to offer it. The fate of the provision will be decided when lawmakers from the House and Senate meet to reconcile their bills. (See Education Week, April 24 and March 27, 1996.)

Observers said the issue is cloaked in presidential politics and that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will play a major role. As of last week, it appeared that Mr. Dole was still weighing his options.

"Dole supports the concept," said Jeremy Wallison, a spokesman for Mr. Dole. "But it's too speculative to say one way or the other" about what position he will take in the conference committee.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe that undocumented children had the same right as others to a free, public K-12 education.

The Senate version of HR 2202 seeks to stem illegal immigration and curb legal and illegal immigrants' access to some public benefits, while the House version also seeks to limit legal immigration.

Anti-Drug Strategy

President Clinton and Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the administration's "drug czar," visited a Florida middle school recently to highlight a national drug-control strategy that focuses in part on youth drug use.

Speaking at George Washington Carver Middle School in Coral Gables, Mr. Clinton and Gen. McCaffrey last month unveiled the administration's drug-control strategy for 1996. At a briefing for reporters, Gen. McCaffrey acknowledged that the strategy is not significantly different from the administration's past efforts.

"Everything in the strategy is already being done," he said, but the new document should make the effort "more coherent and easy to follow."

In his speech, Mr. Clinton said his first goal in the anti-drug effort is "to get young people to reject drugs." The second is to support effective treatment programs. The other parts of the strategy focus on reducing the health-care costs of drug abuse and stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

Mr. Clinton did not elaborate on how the administration planned to discourage drug use by youths. But he said he will ask Congress for an increase in spending to fight drug use.

"We can't stop drugs if our schools, hospitals, and communities don't have the tools they need to get the job done," he said.

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