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GOP Reading Proposal Approved During Debate in Senate

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The Senate approved a GOP-backed literacy proposal during debate late last week on a bill to establish tax-free education savings accounts.

The literacy language, which was offered as an amendment to the bill and passed by voice vote last Thursday, is nearly identical to a plan approved by the House last November. It would emphasize teacher training instead of volunteer reading tutors, as President Clinton had proposed.

But the literacy plan's future remained uncertain last week. Mr. Clinton has repeatedly threatened to veto the tax-free-savings bill to which it is attached. That threat remained despite the reading amendment, Julie Green, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said last Thursday. ("Bill Previews Future Education Policy Battles," in This Week's News.)

Joe Karpinski, a spokesman for the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, said the committee planned to advance a separate reading bill based on the House language. A committee hearing on literacy issues was scheduled for this week.

Mr. Karpinski said that, before last Thursday's vote, the committee's chairman, Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., had not planned to write separate reading legislation but to work with the House version of the plan.

Last year's budget gave Congress until July 1 of this year to pass a literacy bill. If not, its $210 million appropriation will be directed to special education instead.

Legislative Shift

President Clinton made headlines with his America Reads plan, which he unveiled during his 1996 re-election campaign and proposed to Congress in his 1997 State of the Union speech. But his plan--which was built on the concept of putting 1 million tutors, 11,000 Americorps volunteers, and 30,000 reading specialists in schools--was dismissed by House Republicans. ("Effectiveness of Clinton Reading Plan Questioned," Feb. 26, 1997).

The House plan, sponsored by Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee, would disseminate research from the National Institute for Literacy and then require states to propose how they would incorporate the research into their professional-development plans for teachers in order to receive grants. ("GOP Tutoring Grants Inspire Concerns, Praise," Oct. 22, 1997).

Known as the Reading Excellence Act, the measure also includes "tutorial assistance grants," which would give schools in impoverished communities money to hire outside tutors for students having trouble learning to read.

Democrats objected to that language, calling it a thinly veiled voucher plan. But last year, the Education Department said it would support the act if that provision was removed.

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