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Published in Print: February 19, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Actress, Athletes Urge Status Quo for Title IX

Women's groups have added star power to their fight against possible changes in enforcement of the 31-year-old law that bars sex discrimination in education.

Actress Holly Hunter appeared Feb. 5 at a rally to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, along with well-known athletes such as soccer star Julie Foudy and Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes. The rally was part of an effort by some women's groups to urge the Bush administration not to make changes to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which applies to schools and colleges that receive federal funds.

A commission studying the law as it is applied to athletics finishes up its work this month and will forward recommendations on updating enforcement to Secretary of Education Rod Paige. But some women's groups, including the National Women's Law Center are lobbying to keep enforcement rules unchanged. ("Title IX: Too Far, or Not Far Enough?," June 19, 2002.)

Ms. Hunter told the Associated Press that adding names like hers to the list of Title IX supporters could draw attention to the cause. "I want to take a bit of responsibility for my visibility and use it for something I value," she said.

—Michelle R. Davis

Democrats Write to Bush Denouncing Voucher Plan

Leading Democrats told President Bush last week they strongly oppose proposals in his fiscal 2004 budget request to promote private school vouchers.

"The No Child Left Behind Act holds states, school districts, and public schools accountable in specific ways for better results," the lawmakers wrote Feb. 10. "Private schools that participate in voucher programs are not held accountable under the same conditions."

The Democrats calculate that the president's plan contains $300 million for vouchers next year.

But not all the money would necessarily go to private schools. Mr. Bush requested $75 million for a "Choice Incentive Fund" to issue grants for public and private school choice. Also, he assumes a cost of $226 million for refundable tax credits to help pay tuition, fees, and transportation costs when parents transfer a child from a low-performing public school to another public or private school.

The letter was signed by five Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

—Erik W. Robelen

Company Agrees to Pay $2 Million to Ed. Dept.

Verizon Federal Inc., the federal contracting arm of the telephone company Verizon Communications Inc., has agreed to pay the Department of Education $2 million to settle charges that the company was liable for fraud carried out by two of its employees assigned to the agency.

The Verizon unit denied any liability in a criminal scheme that federal prosecutors said resulted in the Education Department's loss of more than $1 million to fraud. ("Auditors Give Ed. Dept. First 'Clean' Review in Six Years," this issue.) The two Verizon technicians assigned to the department were convicted of fraud charges in connection with a scheme to bill the department for $800,000 in false overtime.

The technicians also helped a department telecommunications specialist obtain $300,000 in goods such as computers, telephones, and digital cameras for herself or her relatives under the federal contract.

The Department of Justice had alleged that Verizon Federal was liable under the False Claims Act for the actions of its employees. Verizon denied liability but agreed to pay $2 million on Feb. 7 to settle the case.

According to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, Verizon's cooperation in the investigation and its decision to institute stronger internal controls meant that the Education Department would not take any administrative action against the company's status as a federal contractor.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 22, Issue 23, Page 26

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