News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
House Passes Amended Juvenile-Justice Bill
Tacking on a slew of amendments, the House passed a long-stalled juvenile-justice bill late last week that would toughen penalties for juvenile offenders and provide schools and communities additional aid intended to thwart youth violence.
The House bill passed on a 287-139 vote last Thursday after being put on a legislative fast track following the deadly shootings at a Colorado high school in April. The measure would authorize $1.5 billion in juvenile-justice block grants to states.
House Republican leaders succeeded in adding numerous amendments to the voluminous bill, HR 1501. One would allow children as young as 14 to be tried as adults, while another would increase to one year the maximum penalty for minors who are convicted of illegally possessing a firearm. A third would allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools and other government buildings, although critics argue that doing so would contradict a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring such postings unconstitutional.
Another last-minute addition would require that schools and libraries receiving federal E-rate discounts purchase a World Wide Web filtering program to block obscene material, child pornography, and "material deemed harmful to minors." Another amendment would protect teachers from lawsuits over their disciplinary actions "if teachers are simply trying to maintain order in the classroom," unless they committed a violent crime. At press time last Friday, the House was also poised to pass a separate gun-control measure, HR 2122, that would raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age for the purchase of a handgun. Both House bills, which are to be combined into one measure, must then be reconciled with the juvenile-crime bill the Senate passed last month.
Legislation on Rural Education Introduced
Rural schools would have an easier time getting, and using, up to $74 million in federal school aid, under a bill introduced last week by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
The Rural Education Initiative is designed to help rural school districts with fewer than 600 students in two ways. First, it would allow rural schools to combine money from four federal categorical programs for which they already qualify. Second, rural schools would qualify for formula funding now available through a competitive process only.
Another bill, introduced in May by Rep. Chris John, D-La., would set aside $300 million for low-income school systems with fewer than 800 students. His plan is called the Rural Education Development Initiative Act. Both proposals will be debated during this year's reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
--Robert C. Johnston
Five Agencies Join To Help Disabled Children
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and the heads of four other federal agencies have formally agreed to work together to provide services to young children with disabilities.
The "memorandum of understanding" was signed June 10 by the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Interior, and Defense, which pledged to coordinate efforts to serve disabled children from birth through age 5.
A longtime goal of the Education Department, the agreement was required by the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as a move to help cut schools' costs for services related to special education. The IDEA requires the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council to coordinate early-intervention services between federal agencies and identify duplication and gaps in services.
--Joetta L. Sack
House Unanimously Passes School Lands Bill
The House has unanimously approved a bill that would allow school districts near national forests to buy small parcels of federal land at a nominal cost to build new schools or additional school facilities.
The Education Land Grant Act, introduced by Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., would allow the Department of Agriculture to offer certain national forest lands to publicly funded elementary and secondary schools. Under the bill, HR 150, before allowing a sale, the secretary of agriculture would have to ensure that it would serve the public interest, that the land was not needed by the National Forest System, and that the total acreage did not exceed the amount reasonably needed for the proposed use, with a limit of 80 acres overall.
--Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 27