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Published in Print: March 31, 2004, as News in Brief

News in Brief

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2005 Budget Plan Gains House Approval

The House passed a $2.4 trillion Republican budget plan last week that appears to back increased education funding, though only in general terms, while excluding a Senate-passed measure to shore up a nearly $4 billion shortfall in the Pell Grant program through one-time mandatory spending.

The fiscal 2005 budget resolution passed 215-212 on March 25, largely along party lines.

A report accompanying the resolution promises $2.8 billion above fiscal 2004 levels for the discretionary budget category that covers the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

"This increase is intended to accommodate increases in the funding levels for priority programs," the report says, "such as special education state grants, Title I grants to local educational agencies, and Pell Grants for low-income college students."

It’s up to congressional appropriators to spell out specific discretionary-spending levels later this year for federal programs for the 2005 budget year, which begins Oct. 1.

The Senate Republican plan, passed March 12, was more specific than the House plan. It calls, for instance, for matching President Bush’s $1 billion proposed increases for Title I and special education state grants, while rejecting his proposal to eliminate some 38 Department of Education programs.

—Erik W. Robelen

Justices Decline N.J. Case On Religious-Themed Pencils

The U.S. Supreme Court last week turned down an appeal from a New Jersey mother who challenged a public elementary school’s ban on handing out gifts with Christian messages during classroom holiday parties.

School officials in Egg Harbor, N.J., had confiscated pencils inscribed with "Jesus [loves] the Little Children" when Daniel Walz tried to distribute them in his prekindergarten classroom during a party just before Easter in 1998, according to court papers.

Suing in 2000 on behalf of her son, Daniel’s mother, Dana P. Walz, argued that the school’s actions violated the boy’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

In a unanimous opinion last August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, said the school’s actions were appropriately designed to prevent "proselytizing speech that, if permitted, would be at cross-purposes with its educational goal and could appear to bear the school’s seal of approval."

The Supreme Court declined without comment on March 22 to take up Walz v. Egg Harbor Board of Education (Case No. 03- 982).

—Caroline Hendrie

Department Picks Firm To Manage, Overhaul ERIC

The Department of Education has picked Computer Sciences Corp. to manage and overhaul ERIC, its national electronic education library.

Formally known as the Education Resources Information Center, ERIC provides educators with access to more than a million reports, studies, and other education-related documents. Contending that the 38-year-old system had become "creaky," the department last month shut down the 16 clearinghouses that make it up. In their place, federal officials hope to build a more user-friendly, centralized information system. ("ERIC Clearinghouses Close; New System in Works," Jan. 14, 2004.)

Computer Sciences, of El Segundo, Calif., will share the $34.6 million, five-year contract with four subcontractors: Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; NATECH, Coos Bay, Ore.; DB Consulting, Silver Spring, Md.; and CurrenTech Inc., Columbia, Md.

While the new system is under construction, ERIC documents are available from the system’s main Web site at www.eric.ed.gov. The system is accepting no new documents, however, until the overhaul is completed later this year.

—Debra Viadero

Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 28

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