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News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Lawmakers Table Special Education Overhaul

Congress adjourned last week without producing a bill to overhaul its principal special education law, more than a year after lawmakers took up the issue.

Reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which requires that students with disabilities be provided a "free, appropriate public education," had stalled over several difficult issues ranging from how special education students should be disciplined to who should pay for technologies that help the students.

The House had passed its version of the IDEA reauthorization, HR 3268, in June. The Senate only managed to push its bill, S 1578, through the Labor and Human Resources Committee in March.

Lawmakers earlier this month had suggested they might make a last-ditch attempt to pass an IDEA overhaul by putting the House bill on a fast track and bypassing a House-Senate conference committee. In reaction, a number of special education groups and other education associations asked congressional leaders to set aside work on the IDEA until next year. Meanwhile, President Clinton last week approved a fiscal 1997 spending bill that increases special education grants to states. ("Clinton Signs Bill Boosting ED Budget by $3.6 Billion,"This Week's News.)

In addition to the IDEA, legislation that would have consolidated a number of vocational education programs and a measure seeking a religious-liberties amendment to the Constitution did not come to a vote.

Immigration Bill Finally Passes, Minus School Plan

After months of wrangling that continued until the final moments of the 104th Congress, lawmakers completed work on an immigration-reform bill that President Clinton signed into law last week.

For schools, what the law does not include is probably more significant than what it does.

Republicans had been sharply divided over how to pursue immigration reform. Some wanted to include a hotly debated provision that would have allowed states to deny certain illegal-immigrant children a free public education--language that drew a veto pledge from President Clinton. Other GOP members wanted to drop the provision in order to produce a bill that the president would sign. "Republicans Settle on Generous Budget Bill." Oct. 2, 1996.)

In the end, Republican leaders decided to split the school provision from the larger immigration-reform bill. Both measures passed in the House. The Senate, however, never took up the school bill because it was expected to fail in that chamber.

Also under pressure from the Clinton administration, lawmakers agreed to soften restrictions on public benefits for legal immigrants. The Senate last week passed the overall immigration bill as part of an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 1997, PL 104-208.

Grace of Grantbacks:Compliance Has Its Rewards

The Department of Education announced in the Sept. 30 Federal Register that it will make a "grantback" award to Vermont officials, rebating most of the $10,000 the state had to pay last year after a dispute over spending in vocational education programs in fiscal 1990. Vermont stands to get $7,500 in additional money it can add to its current vocational education programs. The payback is the federal government's way of congratulating state officials for fixing the problem that caused the dispute all those years ago....The federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board will meet Oct. 26-29 in Kansas City, Mo., to discuss accessibility guidelines for play facilities as they relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Board officials said that school playground equipment and other recreation facilities will be discussed.

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