News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

November 14, 2001 3 min read

Education Spending Bill for 2002 Clears Senate

The Senate last week approved a $6.3 billion budget increase for the Department of Education for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The appropriations bill, which contains $48.5 billion in discretionary spending for the department, would provide sizable increases for Title I, special education, and teacher- quality programs. The Senate approved it 89-10 on Nov. 6.

Among its provisions is a $925 million allocation, opposed by the White House, for school renovation grants.

In an Oct. 30 letter to the Senate, the White House Office of Management and Budget also criticized the inclusion of “over two dozen small, narrow-purpose programs that have not been shown to be effective.”

The administration strongly prefers the House-passed bill, the letter said.

Last month, the House passed its version of the fiscal 2002 education spending bill, which contains $49.3 billion for the department.

—Erik W. Robelen

White House: Pell Grant Ceiling Is Unlikely to Rise This Year

The House and Senate education spending bills do not provide enough money to increase the maximum Pell Grant award in fiscal 2002, the White House Office of Management and Budget told Congress last month.

The shortfall results from a greater-than-expected number of applications to the Department of Education for the college-aid grants, which go to low-income students.

"[R]ecent data indicates that maintaining the maximum award level at the 2001 level of $3,750 will require $1.7 billion more than the enacted 2001 level,” the budget office said in a letter.

As the spending bills worked their way through Congress earlier this year, appropriators had said their goal was to raise the maximum award to $4,000, an increase of $250.

The White House supports the House’s $1.7 billion increase for Pell Grants, which the OMB said would reflect a “record increase” and allow the “largest number of students ever to get funding.” The Senate approved a $1.6 billion increase.

—Erik W. Robelen

Supreme Court’s Agenda Includes Two Disability Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case that will determine whether an employee who has physical limitations but is still able to perform certain job-related tasks qualifies as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams (Case No. 00-1089), the auto company argues that a worker whose carpal tunnel syndrome prevented her from doing certain assembly-line tasks does not qualify as disabled because she could still perform other job duties. The employee, Ella Williams, argues that Toyota should have offered her a reasonable accommodation under the ADA by keeping her in the assembly-line positions she could perform without pain.

The case is one of two the high court is considering this term that will likely have broad implications for employers, including school districts. Next month, the court will consider whether an employee with disabilities is entitled to a mailroom job under the ADA even if the employee lacks the normal seniority for the job. That case is US Airways Inc. v. Barnett (No. 00-1250).

—Mark Walsh

Paige, School District Officials Discuss Security Concerns

Secretary of Education Rod Paige met with school security officials last week to discuss strategies for dealing with new threats related to terrorism.

The Department of Education, which sponsors a school safety meeting twice a year, brought in experts from other federal agencies and the New York City police to discuss threats in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and recent anthrax incidents.

Representatives from 25 mostly urban districts received briefings on topics such as public health, biological weapons, emergency communications, and counseling. They also learned ways to handle bomb threats, suspicious packages, and concerns about hoaxes.

Mr. Paige, a former Houston superintendent, told officials they should have comprehensive crisis- preparation and -response plans in place.

His agency is working with the federal Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Firearms to write a guide for schools on the issues discussed at the meeting.

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup