News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

July 10, 2002 8 min read
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Initial ‘Reading First’ Grants Awarded to Three States

The first three states have been chosen to receive federal grants for President Bush’s Reading First initiative, the Department of Education says.

Alabama, Colorado, and Florida will receive major grants to help improve students’ reading with “scientifically based” programs, Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced June 25.

Alabama will receive $15.5 million this year and $102 million over six years; Colorado will receive $9 million this year and $59 million over six years; and Florida will receive $45.6 million this year and $300 million over six years. The funding is subject to each state’s successful launch of the program, and, in the years aside from the current one, congressional appropriations.

—Lisa Fine

Program Pushes Fruits, Veggies

Government officials say they hope a new school program will encourage students to pass on the soft drinks and chips, and opt instead for fresh fruits and vegetables.

A $6 million Department of Agriculture pilot program set to begin in the fall will provide free fresh vegetables as well as fresh and dried fruits to students at 100 schools in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. The agency must report to Congress on the program by next May.

Federal officials and nutritionists hope the program will help students get into the habit of eating fresh produce, said Barry Sackin, the staff vice president for public policy at the Alexandria-based American School Food Service Association. Mr. Sackin cautioned that the program must be studied to make sure students aren’t adding fruits and vegetables but cutting out other healthy foods to keep junk food on their menus.

—Michelle R. Davis

Welfare Overhaul Advances

It’s likely that states will see an increase in child-care subsidies for poor families when the federal welfare law is reauthorized this year. As the debate now moves to the full Senate, the question will be: How much?

Late last month, the Senate Finance Committee passed by a 13-8 vote a version of the law that would add $5.5 billion to the Child Care and Development Block Grant over five years. The final House version included only a $1 billion increase over five years, and President Bush recommended no increase in child-care funding, which currently stands at $4.8 billion annually. Some Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have called for an $8 billion increase over five years.

The version that the Senate will vote on, possibly not until after the August recess, would increase from 20 to 24 the hours per week that welfare recipients must spend on the job, but would keep the total number of hours that they must spend on work-related activities at 30 hours. President Bush’s plan and the House version would increase that total requirement to 40 hours.

—Linda Jacobson

Report Sees College-Cost Crunch

“Empty Promises: The Myth of College Access in America,” from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance . (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

A top panel of advisers to Congress has presented federal lawmakers with a grim analysis of the barriers low- and middle-income students face in trying to pay for college—and a dire prediction of the consequences of not fixing the problem in the future.

More than 400,000 college-qualified high school students will be shut out of four-year colleges this year because of high costs, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance says in a report titled “Empty Promises: The Myth of College Access in America.” By 2010, 4.4 million high school graduates will be priced out of four-year colleges, and 2 million will not be able to attend any college at all, the report says.

The advisory-panel members say their report helps expose a myth: that many of those students being denied access to college would not have been able to attend, for other reasons, such as low academic achievement. The panel’s study zeroes in on “college qualified” students, arguing that cost is the overriding factor in keeping many of them from achieving a higher education.

The committee identifies several steps it argues Congress could take, including: boosting federal Pell Grant appropriations; encouraging more state aid and more gradual tuition hikes, through federal policy; and discouraging the recent shift away from need-based aid in favor of merit-based help.

—Sean Cavanagh

Study Urges Aid to Hispanics

The Democratic majority of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have charged in a report that the Bush administration’s proposed budget doesn’t provide enough funding for education programs that benefit Hispanics.

The report, “Keeping the Promise: Hispanic Education and America’s Future,” issued last month, specifically criticizes the administration’s proposals to freeze funding designated for migrant students and English-language learners and to eliminate the federal dropout program. It charges that the administration hasn’t set the level of proposed fiscal 2003 funding for Title I, the main federal program for disadvantaged students, high enough.

Mercy Viana, a spokeswoman for the White House countered, “The catalyst for improvement won’t be more funding but better accountability systems.”

She added that President Bush has significantly increased education funding since taking office and that the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 will increase flexibility for state governments and school districts to use federal money to meet student needs.

—Mary Ann Zehr

African Education Aid Proposed

President Bush wants to double U.S. funding for a program designed to boost education in Africa.

A plan that Mr. Bush announced last month would bring spending for the African Education Initiative, a program the president unveiled last year, to $200 million over the next five years.

Administration officials said the money would pay for 4.5 million more textbooks for African schoolchildren; go toward training 160,000 new teachers, and providing in- service training for more than 260,000 current teachers; and create 250,000 scholarships for girls.

But world aid advocates were critical of the level of spending. They said the new funding, which would require congressional approval, was nowhere near what it would take to meet a United Nations goal of having universal primary education worldwide by 2015.

—Lisa Fine

‘Hatched’ D.C. Teacher Rehired

A District of Columbia social studies teacher who was fired after running for local office has been re-hired.

The school system in the nation’s capital was forced to fire Thomas Briggs in April after he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the District of Columbia Council. (“Hatch Job: D.C. Teacher Loses Post Over Run for Office,” April 24, 2002.) Federal law prohibits federal workers from taking part in partisan political activity. But Mr. Briggs was rehired in June at Washington’s Dunbar Senior High School, where he previously taught, said Barrington Salmon, a spokesman for the school district.

Federal officials had ordered the district to fire Mr. Briggs for violating the 62-year- old Hatch Act. In 1993, when the act was updated, a provision exempting District of Columbia teachers didn’t make it into the final revisions. The federal Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, is reviewing Mr. Briggs’ rehiring.

—Michelle R. Davis

Title IX in the News

Education Department Names Commission to Study Title IX

The Department of Education has formed a 15-member panel of athletes, coaches, and educators to seek ways to strengthen enforcement of Title IX, the 30-year- old law that prohibits discrimination against women and girls in schools receiving federal aid.

The creation of the blue-ribbon panel comes amid concerns by some women’s groups that the Education Department and the Bush administration are not sufficiently supportive of Title IX and are seeking ways to back off from strict enforcement of the law. (“Title IX: Too Far, Or Not Far Enough?,” June 19, 2002.)

Former Women’s National Basketball Association star and coach Cynthia Cooper and Ted Leland, the director of athletics at Stanford University, will co-chair the new Commission on Opportunity in Athletics. The members of the commission will hold public hearings and speak with athletes, parents, students, educators, and state and local leaders to gather information. A report on their findings will be sent to Secretary of Education Rod Paige by Jan. 31 of next year for review.

—Michelle R. Davis

Group Cites Costs of Gender Bias in Athletics

“The Battle For Gender Equity in Athletics: Title IX at Thirty,” is available from the National Women’s Law Center. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Sex discrimination against female athletes at colleges results in more than diminished prestige, according to a recent report. Women take a financial hit, as well.

Women on athletic scholarships at 30 schools surveyed receive an average of anywhere between $993 and $6,545 less than males each year in aid, say officials of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group in Washington.

The study was the third in a series released by the women’s center over the past month to mark the 30th anniversary of Title IX and document alleged failures to comply with the federal law, which tries to correct gender discrimination in education.

The organization surveyed a select number of schools, but its officials said the funding disparity can be seen between athletes at colleges and universities nationwide. The federal law requires that athletic-scholarship dollars awarded to men and women be nearly proportionate to the rate at which they participate in sports, the organization argues.

Using information available from the Department of Education, the women’s center found that at the 30 schools surveyed, the average male athlete’s scholarship was $7,875, compared with an average female athlete’s award of $5,744.

—Sean Cavanagh

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup


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