News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Democrats Ask for Photos

Senate Democrats are hoping that pictures will be worth a thousand words in their campaign to push President Clinton's $5 billion school construction initiative through a skeptical Republican-led Congress.

Last week, they asked principals to send in pictures and videotapes of crumbling walls, leaky roofs, and other serious maintenance problems to help publicize the need for federal funds for school repairs. All 46 Democrats in the chamber signed a letter mailed to school principals nationwide.

A recent report by the General Accounting Office said that $112 billion is needed to fully repair the nation's schools, and that more than 14 million students attend school in buildings that need major repairs.

Clinton Test Crusade Continues

President Clinton last week encouraged business leaders to support his national testing plan, pledging to make the same pitch to state legislatures this year.

"It is highly unlikely that we can do this unless we have strong support from the business community," Mr. Clinton said in a speech to the Business Council in Washington. "The business community can create the conditions in which every state will have to embrace this challenge and no one can run away."

Mr. Clinton said he will travel to several legislatures this year and urge them to use the tests in their classrooms starting in 1999. Last month, before he spoke to the Maryland legislature, the state's board of education announced it would participate in the voluntary effort to assess 4th graders' reading skills and 8th graders' math abilities. ("Political Shift Emboldens Clinton To Urge Tests," Feb. 19, 1997.)

The Department of Education last week launched a series of public meetings on the test plan. The sessions at the department's headquarters included a panels of test publishers and state and local officials. A third session was scheduled for March 4.

Officials said that more panel discussions would be held when a contract for the tests is decided.

Reno Pushes Youth-Crime Bill

Attorney General Janet Reno told Congress last week that the proposed Anti-Gang and Youth Violence Act is a badly needed bipartisan approach to curbing juvenile crime.

Even though national juvenile-crime rates have dropped for the past five years, Ms. Reno said, they are still "unacceptably high." In fact, the rates are expected to increase as the population of 10- to 17-year-olds grows over the next 20 years.

"We've done much, but we have much more to do," the attorney general told a joint House-Senate panel. "One crime is one crime too many."

HR 810, backed by the Clinton administration, would target gang activity by toughening penalties and giving local prosecutors the option of trying juveniles as adults, Ms. Reno said. It would also limit the purchase of handguns by violent youths, she said, and would strengthen anti-truancy and school violence laws.

Court Passes on School Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected an appeal from a New York school district that was ordered to hold a "name clearing" hearing for an assistant principal fired for poor performance.

In its appeal, the Plainview-Old Bethpage district pointed to a conflict among the federal appeals courts over whether districts and other public employers must provide termination hearings to nontenured employees who are discharged for incompetence.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the district had to provide such a hearing for Linda Donato, a nontenured assistant principal who was dismissed in 1993 after receiving several negative performance evaluations.

"A name-clearing hearing significantly reduces the risk that an employee will be dismissed with false stigmatizing charges placed in her personnel file," the 2nd Circuit court said in a 2-1 ruling last year.

The high court on Feb. 24 rejected the district's appeal in Board of Education of Plainview-Old Bethpage v. Donato (Case No. 96-1020).

In separate action, the court declined to hear an appeal from Illinois' governing body for scholastic sports in a trademark dispute over the term "March Madness."

The Illinois High School Association claimed that its trademark for its annual basketball tournament was infringed upon by a computer game based on the National Collegiate Athletic Association's basketball championships. The NCAA granted a license to a private company for the computer game. The case was Illinois High School Association v. gte Vantage Inc. (No. 96-1021).

Backroom IDEA Work Continues

Officials in Congress and the Department of Education are working together to hash out a compromise bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The conferees want to quickly complete a bill that will be acceptable to representatives in both chambers and the administration, sources said.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a prominent Democrat on the Senate committee that handles education, said he was confident a compromise would be worked out this spring, but declined to say that a bill would be passed in the next month.

While officials involved in negotiations have agreed on many details, some of the most contentious provisions, including those on discipline, have yet to be worked out, Mr. Harkin indicated.

Thomas Hehir, the director of the Education Department's office of special education programs, said the conferees had agreed to legislation that would require other government agencies to pick up the tab for some health-related services for more severely disabled students.

Leaders want the IDEA, the nation's main special education program, to pass quickly. ("Discipline Again To Top Special Ed. Debate," Jan. 29, 1997.)

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