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News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Riley, Lawmakers Clash on Vouchers

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley last week restated the Clinton administration's long-standing opposition to school vouchers, vowing to fight congressional plans to provide private school choice to District of Columbia students.

The House bill with federal appropriations for the nation's capital includes $7 million in scholarships that 2,000 students could redeem at area parochial, private, and public schools. The Senate last week debated adding a scholarship program to its companion bill. A vote to break a Democratic filibuster was scheduled for Tuesday.

"It targets 2,000 children and leaves another 75,000 behind," Mr. Riley said at a news conference last week. "Is that fair?"

The education secretary said Congress should spend half of the money to encourage 58 Washington schools to adopt proven reform models, such as the Success for All program from Johns Hopkins University. The other $3.5 million should be spent on after-school tutoring programs, he said.

Mr. Riley's opposition and the potential for a presidential veto did not sway the bill's sponsor.

"Parents desperately want their children to have a way out of the culture of violence and dependency that surrounds them, and we have a duty to these children to assure that parents who want to bring up their children right have the means to do so," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, in a statement responding to the secretary.

Clinton Promotes Charter Schools

President Clinton took to the soapbox to voice his support of charter schools late last month.

Appearing at a California charter school on Sept. 20, Mr. Clinton announced the award of $40.4 million in federal grants to support the independent-minded, publicly funded schools that operate free from many of the requirements placed on traditional public schools.

"Every state should give parents the power to choose the right public school for their children," Mr. Clinton said in a statement. "Their right to choose will foster competition and innovation that can make public schools better."

More than 700 such schools are operating nationwide. The grants will aid efforts in 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The federal dollars are intended to help pay for charter school planning, design, and start-up costs. The president has requested $100 million in charter school funding for the new fiscal year.

Rules Set for Student-Aid Process

In an effort to streamline how federal financial-aid programs are administered, the Department of Education has issued deadlines by which higher education institutions must be ready to tie in to new electronic processes for administering programs such as Pell Grants and student loans.

The department says that colleges and universities must be connected by Jan. 1 to the wide-area network that will help officials administer student-aid programs. Six months later, the institutions must apply for approval to participate in the federal financial-assistance programs via the internet.

And by July 1999, the final stage of electronic data collection for college aid will begin, with colleges and universities required to record all student payments and information electronically.

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