Federal News Roundup
A bill to repeal the Equal Access Act, which guarantees student religious and political groups the right to meet on school grounds, was introduced in the Senate last week.
The equal-access law has generated controversy since it was passed by the Congress last summer, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that raises similar issues. Arguments in that case, Bender v. Williamsport, will not be heard until the Court's next term.
Senator John H. Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, introduced the bill to repeal the law, which, he said, "imposes new federal standards over local policies governing the use of school facilities."
A draft of the Education Department's regulations for equal access obtained last week reiterates the wording of the statute and requests comments on guidelines on the law issued by a coalition of groups last year. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984.) The draft rules, which have not yet been published, are currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.
Many of the groups that drafted the guidelines--which are in a question and answer form--had urged the department not to issue rules.
A House subcommittee chairman, apparentlyconcerned about reports that the Administration will decide unilaterally and without "meticulous objectivity" to merge the National Institute of Education with the National Center for Education Statistics, has reminded the President of Congressional interest in the issue.
In a March 22 letter to Mr. Reagan, Representative Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education, said the Congress "looks forward" to a role in the nie reauthorization process.
Under current law, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett need only give the Congress 90 days' notice before making the consolidation. Mr. Bennett last week announced the formation of a panel to study the department's research functions. (See story on page 1.)
The subcommittee has held hearings on the reauthorization of the nie, with most witnesses opposed to the merger and some--including Representative Williams--charging that the Administration has politicized the nie's policymaking arm, the National Council on Education Research.
The Administration has opposed a Congressional working paper that would allow several interests to nominate ncer members, who would then recommend to the Secretary candidates for the nie directorship.
Bills were introduced last week in the House and Senate that would allow employers to pay youths under 20 years of age 75 percent of the minimum wage or $2.50 an hour, "whichever is less," between May 1 and Sept. 30 each year.
Intended primarily to expand job opportunities for minority youths, the bill would combat the consequences of the minimum-wage scale, which "prices unskilled young people out of the job market," said President Reagan, in transmitting the legislation to Capitol Hill.
The so-called "youth employment opportunity wage act of 1985" contains provisions to prevent adult workers from being discharged, transferred, or "adversely affected," as the result of the minimum-wage cut, Mr. Reagan assured legislators.
The bill, which has been strongly pushed by the Administration, has been endorsed by the National Conference of Black Mayors but is opposed by blacks in the Congress and labor organizations.
The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and in the House by Representative Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi.
The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it will require a more selective and intensive screening of prospective Head Start staff members.
hhs officials will interview prospective employees for Head Start, the federal program for low-income preschool children; make personal and employment reference reviews mandatory; and conduct state and national criminal checks as required. Further, "every employee and volunteer will be explicitly advised that sexual activity with, and abuse of, children is illegal."
In a speech prepared for Secretary Margaret M. Heckler, hhs also announced that it has made $25 million available to the states under the Title XX Social Services Block Grant for training efforts to reduce child abuse in day-care centers.
The agency also said $12.5 million will soon be distributed to states to establish and carry out prevention and treatment programs for child abuse and neglect. This amount, according to hhs, represents less than half of the $26 million that is administered by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
The agency also released a new report by its inspector general, "Preventing Sexual Abuse in Day Care Programs," which notes that most sexual abusers are known by their victims and that 98 percent of known abuse occurs in the home. The report also says that parents represent the largest percentage--77 percent--of child abusers, and that as many as 75 percent of offenders have been victims themselves.