News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Prayer Amendment Gains Support

A House Republican has formally introduced a measure that would amend the U.S. Constitution to provide greater support for religious freedom.

Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., first unveiled his amendment at a news conference in March. At that time, however, three conservative Christian organizations withheld their support for the measure, which is designed to guarantee the right to pray and display religious symbols in public schools and other public spaces, such as town squares.

With some modifications to the wording, two of those organizations now support the amendment. They are the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Rep. Istook formally introduced the amendment on May 8. Mr. Istook said that House leaders have promised a floor vote on the amendment by next fall, which would require a two-thirds vote of each house and ratification by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution.

As of last week, the Annandale, Va.-based Christian Legal Society continued to withhold support for Rep. Istook's language.

Colleges Pledge Tutoring Support

More than 165 colleges and universities have pledged at least half of their recent increases in federal work-study funds to help teach children to read, the Department of Education announced this month.

The institutions will join President Clinton's effort to enlist a corps of 1 million volunteers for the American Reads Challenge, which will provide reading tutors to students around the nation.

Last year, Congress approved a 35 percent increase in federal work-study aid, from $616.5 million to $830 million. Nearly 1 million students at 3,300 colleges and universities are eligible for the program, which provides part-time employment to help the students pay education costs.

In his 1996 campaign and again in his State of the Union Address, President Clinton proposed the reading challenge, a five-year, $2.75 billion effort to improve the reading achievement of students in grades K-4.

GOP Pushes Classroom Spending

Saying too many federal education dollars are wasted on bureaucracy, 18 House Republicans have introduced a resolution to encourage governments to send more money directly to the classroom.

The nonbinding resolution calls on the Department of Education and state and local education agencies to spend at least 90 percent of federal K-12 education money on elementary and secondary programs in the classroom.

The GOP group estimates that only about 65 percent of this year's $15.4 billion federal elementary and secondary education allotment was used for student instruction and materials. The Education Department spent the rest on studies, publications, and grant administration, said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, R-Pa. Mr. Pitts said if 90 percent of federal school dollars were sent to classrooms, it would mean an additional $1,800 per class.

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