Education, Trade, and Welfare Bills Top the Congress's Agenda

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WASHINGTON--The Congress returns from its Easter recess this week to a growing legislative agenda, headed by unresolved debates over the federal budget, international trade, and the welfare system--all with major implications for education.

On the week's calendar for the House Education and Labor Committee is HR 5, a bill that would extend more than a dozen elementary and secondary programs through 1993--including Chapter 1, Chapter 2, bilingual education, impact aid, and Indian education.

The measure is expected to reach the House floor shortly thereafter.

Trade Bill

Late this month, the full House is scheduled to consider HR 3, an omnibus trade bill that would create or expand a variety of federal education programs designed "to improve productivity and competitiveness'' among "current and future workers.''

Sponsored by Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat ofCalifornia, the "education and training for American competitiveness act'' would authorize approximately $500 million annually in new federal aid to education, including:

  • $50 million for state-administered grants to support foreign-language programs at the elementary and secondary levels.
  • $50 million to enable school districts to purchase laboratory equipment and instructional materials for use in mathematics and science programs.
  • $100 million for adult-literacy programs, half of which would go for English-as-a-second-language instruction.
  • $100 million to support public-private partnerships in vocational training for adults and secondary-school students.
  • $50 million to finance efforts by regional educational laboratories to encourage continuing education among rural high-school students.
  • $10 million to subsidize the acquisition of educational-telecommunications technology.
  • $5 million to encourage school-business partnership projects aimed at increasing students' "career awareness.''
  • $2 million to develop "model programs for technology education.''
  • $1 million to establish an "office of educational software'' in the Education Department "to act as a clearinghouse for all knowledge and education and training software developed by federal agencies.''

Outlook Uncertain

"Competitiveness,'' one of 1987's major buzzwords on Capitol Hill, has produced a favorable climate for expanding federal aid to education, political observers say. Some have compared worries over the nation's growing trade deficit to the launch of sputnik 30 years ago, when the Congress responded with the National Defense Education Act of 1958.

But the outlook for new programs authorized by HR 3 remains uncertain--first, because of the continuing fiscal austerity mandated by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget law; and, perhaps more important, because of the growing debate over protectionism.

Most Republicans and many Democrats are expected to oppose a proposal by Representative Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat who recently announced his 1988 Presidential bid, to mandate retaliatory action against nations that enjoy a large trade surplus with the United States. Failure to reach a compromise on the "fair trade'' vs. "free trade'' question could delay or even doom HR 3, as it did to similar legislation last year.

Meanwhile, a host of other education-related bills have recently been introduced.

School-Based Clinics

Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois and another Presidential contender, and Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, have introduced bills--S 737 and HR 1609--that would authorize $50 million annually to support school-based health "demonstration projects.''

The clinics would provide both primary and preventive health care, including birth-control devices and information.

Mr. Waxman, in proposing the legislation, argued that opposition to such services "flies in the face of reality.''

"Virtually all of the young girls and boys who have participated in adolescent health programs across the country were sexually active before they entered the clinics,'' he said.

Successful school-based clinics, such as those in St. Paul, he added, "have made tremendous progress in reducing that city's teen-age pregnancy rate and school-dropout rate.''

Several measures would establish national-service programs for youth, featuring postsecondary-education benefits as an enticement.

Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, is sponsoring a $30-million-a-year grant program to support national-service demonstration projects. Under S 762, those who successfully completed a two-year term of community service would be eligible for educational assistance for up to 18 months, including tuition and a $250 monthly stipend.

S 760, sponsored by Senator Dale Bumpers, Democrat of Arkansas, would authorize partial forgiveness of student loans for college graduates who accept employment at low pay with nonprofit charitable organizations.

Representative Dave McCurdy, Democrat of Oklahoma, is sponsoring HR 1479, a proposal that would virtually curtail current student-loan programs and base educational benefits on the completion of a term of military or civilian service.

Teacher Shortage

S 831, sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, would authorize "future teacher training corps fellowships,'' with financial incentives for graduates to teach in areas with a shortage of elementary and secondary teachers.

The program would provide up to $25 million annually in fellowships, with candidates chosen by governors on the basis of academic records and leadership ability.

In exchange for fellowships of up to $5,000 annually, recipients would have to teach for up to three years in a designated teacher-shortage area.

Drug 'Czar'

Senator Joseph R. Biden, another expected candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, recently proposed the creation of a Cabinet-level official to coordinate federal anti-drug-abuse efforts.

The "national narcotics leadership act,'' S 789, is cosponsored by 29 other Senate Democrats. It would create a "director of national drug-control policy,'' as well as deputy directors for drug "demand reduction'' and "drug law enforcement.''

The "drug czar'' proposal has surfaced several times in recent years and has been consistently opposed by the Reagan Administration, which argues that it would create an unnecessary layer of federal bureaucracy.

Computer Education

The "computer-education assistance act,'' S 822, would authorize annual grants of $50 million a year to help schools purchase computer hardware and software, and $20- million to train computer-education teachers. The measure is sponsored by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat and a former computer-firm executive.

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