Published Online: May 7, 1997

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News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Training Bill Clears Committee

The House Education and the Workforce Committee unanimously approved a bill last week that would consolidate more than 60 federal job-training programs in block grants to states.

The three block grants in HR 1385, which also would amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1993, would provide for employment and training of adults, employment and training of disadvantaged youths, and adult education and literacy. Current programs that would be covered by the block grants are now funded at nearly $5 billion. The employment and training for disadvantaged youths block grant would include funds to distribute to local communities for serving school dropouts. The block grants would not cover vocational-rehabilitation programs.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the committee, said he hoped the full House would consider the measure this month.

House Moves on Adoptions

The House last week approved a bill designed to accelerate adoptions of abused or neglected children, and to cut down on the time such children spend in the foster-care system.

Under the Adoption Promotion Act of 1997, which has the Clinton administration's support, states could reduce their efforts to reunite children with families when "aggravated circumstances" are involved, such as sexual abuse, abandonment, or torture.

The bill, which passed the House by a 416-5 vote, also would shorten from 18 to 12 months the period in which initial hearings are held to determine whether a child should be put up for adoption. And, if a child is under age 10 and has been in foster care for 18 of the prior 24 months, states would be required--with some exceptions--to begin the process of terminating parental rights. States would also be rewarded financially for moving children into permanent homes--$4,000 for each foster child adopted, and an additional $2,000 for each child with special needs. The Senate is expected to act on similar legislation in coming months.

America Reads Moves Forward

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation last week to enact President Clinton's America Reads initiative, one of the high-profile programs the chief executive announced during his re-election campaign.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri, would authorize funding to recruit and train 1 million volunteers and 30,000 reading specialists to work with elementary school children who need extra help learning to read. It would also create "Parents as First Teachers" grants to help parents learn how to tutor their children.

In addition, the bills would expand the Head Start and Even Start early-childhood programs.

President Clinton has allocated $260 million for the program in his proposed budget for fiscal 1998. He also used the volunteer summit in Philadelphia last week to push the proposal. ("Seeking To Turn Summit Promises Into Service," in This Week's News.)

But the bills face an uncertain future, with many Republican leaders adamantly opposed to spending federal dollars on what they consider an unnecessary new bureaucracy. Two key Republican leaders on the House education committee issued a statement April 25 denouncing the proposal. Reps. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania and Frank Riggs of California said more efforts should be focused on teacher training and on eliminating existing federal literacy programs that do not work.

"Getting the federal government involved in managing local volunteers adds no value," Mr. Riggs and Mr. Goodling said in the statement.

Student-Aid Hearings Set

The Department of Education is holding public hearings as part of an effort to simplify the eligibility-determination form for federal aid to college students.

The department's goal is to clarify and reduce the number of questions on the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Meeting organizers are soliciting views on balancing the need for more data with the burden and complexity of collecting the data. Also up for discussion is the ease or difficulty with which students complete the form.

The meetings will be held on May 12 in Room 206a at the Manchester Conference Center at the University of San Diego and on June 6 in Room 101 of the J.C. Penney Building at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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