News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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IDEA Panel Tackles Parent Role

Better communication with parents is the key for states to save money on special education litigation, two top education officials told the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week.

Parents would be less apt to file lawsuits if states offered mediation services and allowed people a greater voice in how and where their children are educated, said Judith E. Heumann, the assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services in the Department of Education.

"Mediation allows people to come to the table and talk about problems," Ms. Heumann told the panel during its first hearing on S 216, its bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Placement decisions made by educators are often the subject of disputes, she said.

"Parents don't want to hire attorneys any more than schools do," added Thomas Hehir, the director of the department's office of special education programs. "Parents should be involved in the placement of their child, but oftentimes, bureaucracy makes the decision."

While arguing for a bigger role for parents, Mr. Hehir also added that school officials should be allowed to veto a parent's request if they deem it is not in the best interest of the child or causes an undue hardship on the school.

The Senate panel must decide how to revamp the 22-year-old law, which educators complain has been bogged down by costly court cases and the burden of providing expensive services. ("Discipline Again To Top Special Ed. Debate," Jan. 29, 1997.)

Staff members say the reauthorization, which died in the Senate last year, is likely to pass quickly this time. The House Education and the Workforce Committee holds two IDEA hearings this week on HR 5, its counterpart bill.

Presidents To Salute Volunteers

President Clinton and former President Bush want every American to take part in volunteer service.

The former rivals will help lead the President's Summit for America's Future, to be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia, the White House announced late last month. The event will encourage students and young people to commit to volunteering.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush will be joined by retired Gen. Colin Powell, who will serve as the general chairman, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, the event's vice chairman. Former Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, along with former first ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan, are also scheduled to participate in the summit.

Businesses will help sponsor the summit and make sure the topics discussed get some follow-up. And in the spirit of volunteerism and high-profile citizenship, some companies have already pledged services to help children, including offers of tutoring, free eye care, and immunizations.

Waste, Innovation Search Opens

The leader of a House panel that scrutinizes education says that occasional public hearings over the next two years are meant to highlight tactics for teaching basic skills and to ask people around the country how schools waste money.

The hearings kicked off last week in California. Future sessions will be held in different locations.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who chairs the House subcommittee that handles investigations on education issues, said in a statement that he wants to find ways to "get back to basic academics, get parents more involved, and get more dollars to the classroom in our effort to help children to learn."

Local educators will testify at each site.

No further hearings have been scheduled, the spokesman said.

House Committee Now Full

House Republicans recently completed the roster for the Education and the Workforce Committee.

Congress formally gave four GOP members the slots that were left vacant when Republican leaders made the first round of committee assignments last fall. ("House Education Panel Is Getting a New Look," Dec. 4, 1996.)

The newest members are Reps. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Fred Upton of Michigan, Van Hilleary of Tennessee, and Joe Scarborough of Florida.

Crime Grants Up, Meetings Set

The President's Crime Prevention Council says that $1 million in grants are available to community groups and youth-sponsored organizations to pay for programs aimed at curbing alcohol and drug abuse. An announcement in the Jan. 17 Federal Register said applications for the grants of up to $100,000 each are available through March 18 from the Department of Justice's office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention in Washington. ... The National Education Goals Panel was to meet in Washington with speakers including actor and director Rob Reiner. The agenda for Feb. 4 session featured early-childhood development and international test scores. ... The advisory board of the National Institute for Literacy will meet Feb. 12-13 in Washington. The agenda includes discussion of legislative issues affecting literacy programs. ... And finally, the Knearl School in Brush, Colo., and South Stone School House in Isle LaMotte, Vt., were among the most recent nominees to the National Register of Historic Places.

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