Bills To Fight Drug Abuse, Reduce Dropout Rate Advance

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Following are the highlights of this summer's Congressional action on education-related bills:

  • Drug Abuse--As part of an "omnibus drug abuse act," the House Education and Labor Committee voted Aug. 12 to authorize $1.05 billion over the next three years to support education, counseling, and parental-involvement programs to combat drug abuse.

    State-administered grants would be available to districts that established a "mandatory drug-abuse-education curriculum" in elementary and secondary schools.

    The bill (H R 5378) would also direct Secretary of Education William J . Bennett to launch "a national media campaign" to discourage drug abuse. Democratic leaders hope to move the measure to the House floor shortly after the Congress returns.

    In a related action, the full House approved legislation July 31 that would mandate drug-abuse-prevention programs in school districts receiving federal funds. The restriction, approved as an amendment to $13.4-billion education-spending bill for fiscal 1987 (H R 5233), would authorize the Education Department to withhold aid to districts that failed to comply.

    In another amendment, the House voted to increase the Secretary's discretionary fund by $11 million to finance the production and distribution of audio-visual materials warning of the dangers of drugs.

  • At-Risk Youth--The "dropout and re-entry act" (H R 3042), which won House approval Aug. 7, would authorize $50 million for fiscal 1987 for programs to reduce the nation's 29 percent dropout rate.

    Under the bill, districts would be eligible for federal grants to finance up to 90 percent of programs serving at-risk youth. As a condition of funding, districts would have to investigate and publicize the extent of their communities' dropout problem.

    Earlier, the House voted to target $1 million of the Secretary's discretionary fund to support districts' suicide- prevention efforts. An earlier version of the bill (H R 46~0) had proposed a $10-million commitment, but the amount was reduced in committee.

  • Gifted and Talented--ategorical grants to support education of gifted and talented student&---consolidated into Chapter 2 block grants in 1981-would be revived under H R 3263, passed by the House July 31.

    The block-grant approach has resulted in "acute educational neglect" for gifted and talented students, argued the bill's sponsor, Mario Biaggi, Democrat of New York. "Only 13 percent of school districts currently receiving funds under Chapter 2 allocate any money at all for gifted education."

  • Special Education--After a long-awaited House-Senate compromise in July, the President signed into law a measure (S 415) making parents eligible for court-awarded legal fees in lawsuits that challenge school decisions on special education. The law nullifies a 1984 Supreme Court decision that said the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, P.L. 94-142, did not authorize such payments.

    On Aug. 7, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 authorizing vocational- rehabilitation grants to states.

    And on July 9, the President approved a technical amendment to P.L. 94-142 that corrects an unintended disincentive to serving students ages 3 and 4 and 18 to 21. The measure (H R 5036) changed the funding formula to equalize treatment between states that serve the two age groups and those that serve only children ages 5 to 17.

  • Asbestos--The House unanimously voted Aug. 12 to require the Environmental Protection Agency to issue stricter rules for controlling asbestos in school buildings. The bill (H R 5073) would overrule the E.P.A.'S current policy of refusing to set standards for the safe removal or containment of asbestos.

    "As much as 75 percent of all school cleanup work is being done improperly," said the measure's sponsor, Representative James J . Florio, Democrat of New Jersey. "Improper cleanup work is worse than no cleanup work at all" because it disperses the cancer-causing fibers, he added.

    Current E.P.A. rules require school , districts only to inspect for asbestos and make public the results. An estimated 15 million schoolchildren and 1.5 million school employees are potentially at risk, according to a 1984 E.P.A. estimate.

    The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Aug. 12 approved a companion measure (S 2083), which is expected to reach the Senate floor soon.

  • Civil Rights--Facing charges of mismanagement and abdication of its independent role, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been targeted for elimination by Congressional critics. Backed by a coalition of 185 civil-rights organizations, the House approved a plan to put the agency out of business by Dec. 31.

    Considered an independent champion of civil rights for most of its 29- year history, the commission since 1983 has increasingly reflected the views of the Reagan Administration, expressing opposition, for example, to affirmative-action goals and equal pay for jobs of "comparable worth."

    The House vote to kill the agency came as an amendment to a spending bill for the Commerce, Justice, and State departments (H R 5161). In its version of the legislation, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Aug. 14 to cut the agency's budget in half, to $6 million.

  • Reading Study--Along with measures reauthorizing Head Start and other human-services programs (S 2444 and H R 4421), the Senate I approved an amendment directing the Education Department to compare the effectiveness and per-pupil costs of various methods for teaching reading.

    The amendment, sponsored by Senator Edward Zorinsky, Democrat of Nebraska, is designed to identify the elements of "well-defined" phonics instruction

    Under the legislation reauthorizmg Head Start for four years, funding for the program would be reduced from $1.22 billion this year to $1.13 billion in 1987.

  • Higher Education--House and Senate conferees are continuing their deliberations on a bill (S 1965) to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 for five years. The conferees failed to reach an agreement on the measure before recessing. Most federal higher-education programs are due to expire Sept. 30

    When the committee reconvenes, members will weigh a Senate offer to authorize $10.2 billion for the programs in fiscal 1987-more than the $9.5 billion the Senate bill would I have provided, but less than the $10.7 billion called for in the House version. In fiscal 1986, the Congress appropriated $8.7 billion.

    In August, the conferees agreed to raise the amount students could borrow under the Guaranteed Student Loan program. Currently, undergraduate students can borrow up to $2,500 a year; under the conference agreement, students in their third, fourth, and fifth years could borrow up to $4,000 a year

    Vol. 06, Issue 01, Page 30

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