News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

June 18, 2003 4 min read
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Head Start Legislation Clears House Panel

The House Subcommittee on Education Reform last week passed its version of the reauthorization of the main federal preschool program for poor children on an 11-9 party-line vote.

The Republican-supported Head Start bill now moves on to the full Education and the Workforce Committee. Though a hearing has not yet been scheduled, debate over a proposal to give some states Head Start money directly is expected to continue.

Under the bill, such “demonstration projects” would allow federal Head Start money to flow to eight eligible states instead of exclusively to local programs. Republicans say the change would allow states to better blend Head Start with their preschool efforts.

Democrats, concerned that the change could undermine local programs, attempted unsuccessfully to block the plan at the June 12 markup of the bill. But a Republican amendment to guarantee steady funding levels for Head Start programs in those eight states for three years was adopted 10-8, again on party lines.

—Michelle R. Davis

Head Start Advocates Sue Over HHS Warning

The National Head Start Association filed a lawsuit last week in federal district court in Washington against the Department of Health and Human Services, contending that the federal government is threatening its members’ right to free speech.

The June 11 lawsuit follows a May 8 letter sent by Associate Commissioner Windy M. Hill of the HHS Department’s Head Start Bureau, which cautioned local Head Start programs not to use federal money for political activities and warned program employees to evaluate their actions. The letter said Head Start employees are governed by the federal Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of some federal employees.

The NHSA is lobbying against some proposals contained in the House version of this year’s Head Start reauthorization. ( “Head Start Imbroglio a Struggle for Hearts, Minds, Votes.”) The group said in the lawsuit that in the wake of the letter, Head Start parents and employees “have become fearful that lobbying, even with nonfederal funds, would expose them to sanctions.”

The suit asks the court to stop the HHS Department from putting any sanctions in place, unless the government describes lobbying restrictions for Head Start staff members and parents more thoroughly.

—Michelle R. Davis

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Title IX Rules

A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit by the National Wrestling Coaches Association alleging that the Department of Education’s enforcement of Title IX results in discrimination against male athletes.

The Lancaster, Pa.-based coaches’ group, joined by wrestling clubs from three universities, had charged that the department’s guidance on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 encourages colleges to drop men’s sports such as wrestling to guarantee compliance with the statute, which bars sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds.

The guidance, expressed in 1979 and 1996 documents from the department, relies on a three-part legal test that guarantees institutions will be in compliance if they provide opportunities to male and female athletes in numbers proportionate to their enrollments.

On June 11, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of Washington, ruled that the coaches’ group and other plaintiffs lacked standing under federal law to bring the suit directly against the federal department. He concluded that aggrieved male athletes could sue their universities, or the universities could sue the Education Department.

Lawrence J. Joseph, a Washington lawyer representing the coaches’ association, said the ruling would be appealed.

—Mark Walsh

Anti-Smoking Campaign To Include School Tour

It seems logical that the nation’s top doctor would support a tobacco ban, but anti-smoking groups say no surgeon general has been so bold as to do so publicly—until now.

Asked this month in a subcommittee hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee if he would support a ban on all tobacco products, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona didn’t hedge.

“I would at this point, yes,” Dr. Carmona said, adding later that he saw “no need for tobacco products in society.” A spokesman for the surgeon general said Dr. Carmona’s statement does not reflect the position of President Bush.

Last month, Dr. Carmona launched a “50 Schools in 50 States” campaign that will take him to public schools around the country to warn youngsters about the dangers of smoking.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Teacher Bills Approved By House Committee

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved legislation last week aimed at promoting higher standards for teacher colleges, and a second bill that would expand the amount of student loan forgiveness for new teachers in subjects that face staff shortages.

The Ready to Teach Act of 2003 would require states receiving various federal grants to more closely scrutinize teacher-college programs. Sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., the teacher-college bill would encourage states receiving federal grants to choose among different options for improving those institutions, such as promoting “charter” colleges of education. The bill would also mandate more uniformity in how states and colleges report scores on teacher-certification tests.

The loan-forgiveness proposal would make teachers in math, science, and special education subjects in many Title I schools eligible for student-loan forgiveness of up to $17,500.

Under the bill, sponsored by Joe Wilson, R-S.C., teachers could begin seeing their college loan debt reduced after two years of teaching, with more phased in over time. Under current law, teachers of all subjects who work for five years in Title I schools receive up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness, and that provision would stay in place.

—Sean Cavanagh


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