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A first-ever congressional education caucus has been formed to study education issues and seek legislation to address perennial concerns, such as funding shortages and aging school buildings.

Rep. Cleo Fields, D-La., organized the caucus and has been elected its House chairman. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., is the Senate chairman.

So far, 52 members of Congress have signed up for the caucus. Just two Republicans have joined the group, however: Reps. Michael Bilirakis of Florida and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania.

"The education caucus was long overdue," Mr. Fields said in a written statement.

"Education was the only major issue with no supporting caucus. It's time we made education a top priority."

The caucus has held one panel discussion involving representatives of various education associations.

"It's a real shot in the arm to have a focus on education in Congress," said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an umbrella lobbying group. "I welcome it."

Goals 2000 Out

The Alabama state board of education has formally rejected federal funding under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

The 6-2 vote came late last month and specifically prohibited local school systems from applying for funds on their own.

Last fall, Gov. Fob James Jr. wrote to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley explaining that he objected to the possible federal intrusion into state and local education decisionmaking that might come from accepting Goals 2000 money. The Republican governor said the state would return the $1.57 million it had been awarded. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1995.)

But federal officials told Alabama that a vote of the state board was needed to make such a decision. Mr. James is the president of the board.

The Goals 2000 funding is to help school districts implement reform plans based on high academic standards for students that the states must agree to set.

Alabama's previous state superintendent had applied for the federal funding, but it was never spent.

Drug Awareness

The Department of Health and Human Services has launched a national public education campaign as a first step in countering a recent resurgence in marijuana use among young people.

Together with the National pta, the department plans to distribute educational materials to 14 million parents to help them as they talk with their children about the dangerous consequences of marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug in the United States.

The "Reality Check" kit includes information on side effects and long-term health risks, as well as tips for teenagers on how to avoid peer pressure.

"Reality Check is about helping young people get the information they need and helping parents talk about a subject that can be difficult for them," Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala said in a statement announcing the effort last month.

A copy of the parents' guide, Keeping Youth Drug Free: A Guide for Parents, Grandparents, Elders, Mentors, and other Caregivers, is available for free by calling (800) 729-6686. The guide can also be ordered through the World Wide Web at http://www. health.org/reality.

Kunin's Departure Set

Following her confirmation by the Senate last month as the next U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin said she will leave her current post in early August.

Ms. Kunin has overseen the Department of Education's efforts to improve its management and establish the direct-lending program for college students.

The former three-term governor of Vermont was born in Switzerland.

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