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News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Senate Acts on E-Rate

The Senate late last week passed an amended emergency spending bill that, among other provisions, would require the Federal Communications Commission to propose changes in the way federal "E-rate" telecommunications discounts for schools and libraries are administered.

Under the terms of the bill, S 1768, the FCC would have to tell Congress by May 8 how it plans to combine the Schools and Libraries Corp. and the Rural Health Services Corp., which runs a similar program for health agencies, to make them more accountable to federal lawmakers.

The White House also urged Congress last week to require every school and library that receives funds through the $2.25 billion program to draw up plans to protect children from "inappropriate content" on the Internet.

The Senate Commerce Committee recently approved a bill, S 1619, to require schools and libraries to install on-line blocking or filtering systems as a condition of receiving the education-rate discounts.

The SLC has logged in more than 40,000 E-rate applications from schools and libraries since it began accepting applications Jan. 30.

Riley Talks Up Budget

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley sought to make a case for President Clinton's $12 billion class-size-reduction initiative in his annual testimony before House appropriators last week.

During the same March 25 hearing, appropriators heard that a recently approved five-year budget resolution in the Senate would not serve education adequately.

"There would be a number of critical national needs that would not be met," Thomas P. Skelly, the director of the Department of Education's budget service, said.

Title I is among the programs that would be shortchanged under the Senate plan, Mr. Skelly said.

The president's class-size-reduction proposals also were not included in the Senate resolution.

Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., said he was disturbed by the amount of funding the House was putting into a supplemental transportation bill instead of education.

"It's quite clear the intention of Congress is to put concrete ahead of kids," Mr. Obey said.

Republicans on the subcommittee did not respond to the budget comments. The House Budget Committee plans to release its funding-level recommendations later this month.

Safety Violations Cited

Federal officials have fined 10 automobile dealerships a total of $14,400 for illegally selling or leasing vans for transporting students.

The dealers violated a federal law prohibiting the marketing of new vehicles built to carry fewer than 10 passengers to be used instead of school buses, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in announcing the fines March 18.

The 36 vans sold by dealers to schools in six states do not have school bus safety features, such as emergency exits and signs that warn other drivers to stop while students are getting out of the vehicles.

The fines followed a two-year investigation by the agency, which promises to search for similar violations elsewhere.

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