News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
Bill on Medication Passes in House
States would have to prohibit educators from requiring that students be medicated to attend school, under a measure approved overwhelmingly by the House last week.
Under the measure that passed in a 425-1 vote on May 21, states that failed to adopt such policies could lose all federal education funds.
The bill was designed to protect parents' rights to choose freely whether they seek medication treatment for their children who have behavioral or other disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Controversy has erupted in recent years over the number of children being treated with medication for disorders like ADHD. About 5 percent of American children are diagnosed with ADHD. Teachers are sometimes the first to detect signs of the conditions in their students and may recommend referring them for diagnosis and treatment. Many students with ADHD take stimulant drugs such as Ritalin.
Critics of such measures say such drugs are too often prescribed for children who don't need medication. National studies, however, have generally shown the drugs are a helpful part of treatment for children with ADHD.
Several states already have in place policies comparable to the prohibition in the bill approved by the House.
Though the bill was passed as a free-standing piece of legislation, a similar measure was also included in the House version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA bill passed the House April 30.
There is currently no version of the bill introduced on the Senate
Ed. Dept. Guide, Grants
Offered for Crisis Plans
The U.S. Department of Education unveiled a new guide this month to help schools plan for emergencies, such as terrorist acts, other violent incidents, or natural disasters.
"Crises aren't planned," Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in a May 16 press release. "But having a plan can save lives, prevent serious injury, and minimize property damage."
The guide was prepared with the help of experts from around the country, Secretary Paige said.
In addition, he said, districts can now apply for $38 million in federal grants to help strengthen and improve crisis plans. The department expects to award 150 such grants of $100,000 to $500,000 each. The deadline for applications is June 30.
—Erik W. Robelen
Expected to Fall in July
Interest rates for federal student loans are expected to fall below 4 percent this summer, allowing borrowers to save on debt taken out to pay for college.
The interest rate is expected to drop to 3.5 percent, effective July 1, a decrease from the current rate of 4.06 percent. U.S. Department of Education officials said the new rate would be especially appealing for students who wish to consolidate various federal debts under the lower rate, which would be fixed for the life of a loan. Because of the lower interest rate, those students who consolidate could save hundreds, or potentially thousands, of dollars over the life of those loans, department officials said.
Most federally insured education loans are eligible for consolidation, including unsubsidized and subsidized direct loans and Stafford loans, Federal Family Education Loans, Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students, Perkins loans, and Health Education Assistance Loans, Education Department officials said. Last year, the rate fell from 5.99 percent to 4.06 percent.
The agency revises the student-loan rates each year as part of a formula based on the interest rate of 91-day Treasury bills. Agency officials announced the new rates on May 20. The department estimates that a student borrower with $20,000 in federal loans could save $1,570 over 20 years, under the lower interest rate.
— Sean Cavanagh
Vol. 22, Issue 38, Page 19