News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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GOP Pushes School Choice Bills

Republican heavy hitters--including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas--kicked off a campaign last week for school choice bills.

At a hearing of the House Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee, Mr. Gingrich said his goals for the year are to pass three separate choice initiatives.

The top priority is a proposal for tax-free tuition-savings accounts that Congress removed from a recent tax-cutting bill under the threat of a presidential veto. The next will be Mr. Armey's plan to give federally funded scholarships to District of Columbia students to redeem at private and public schools; Republicans plan to attach that measure to the bill appropriating money for the nation's capital.

The third goal, Mr. Gingrich said, is to divert money from the $7.2 billion Title I program for 20 voucher-demonstration programs. That plan has not been introduced as a separate bill, nor is it mentioned in the fiscal 1998 education spending bill the House debated last week.

GAO Enumerates Programs for At-Risk

Congress pays for 127 programs for at-risk youths--efforts that are administered by 15 federal agencies and cost the government $4 billion last year, according to the General Accounting Office.

The departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, to name a few of the agencies, each operated grant programs intended to benefit troubled young people last year, the GAO says in a report released this month.

Most of the federal programs identified in the GAO report had multiple purposes, ranging from counseling to job-training assistance to research and evaluation efforts. Many federal grantees also offered substance abuse or violence-prevention services to young people. The Senate Subcommittee on Youth Violence had asked the congressional watchdog agency to supply a detailed account of all the federal programs serving at-risk young people. Lawmakers are considering legislation to consolidate federal juvenile-justice programs.

Report: Fulbright Needs More Attention

The Fulbright Educational Exchange Program needs greater support at home and internal innovations to regain its place as the nation's flagship international-exchange endeavor, according to a study of the program released last week.

The report, "Fulbright at Fifty: Meeting the Challenge of the Next Fifty Years," recommends that Congress restore funding for the half-century-old program, whose budget has been scaled back from $125 million to just under $100 million in fiscal 1997.

"More people know about the program overseas than in America," said Robert Connor, the director of the National Humanities Center, the private center based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., that sponsored the study.

The report did not propose changes to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange, a branch of the larger program that allows roughly 400 elementary and secondary teachers and administrators the opportunity to work overseas every year. "With that program, it's clear we're getting a tremendous bang for the buck," Mr. Connor said. ("Fulbright Seeks Payoff From Teacher Exchanges," May 28, 1997.)

School Universal-Services Board Named

The head of the Federal Communications Commission last week named five members of the panel that will oversee the provision of universal telecommunications services for schools and libraries.

Earlier this year, the FCC moved to implement the universal-services provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by agreeing to give deep discounts to schools and libraries for telecommunications services. Members of the new Schools and Libraries Corp. will administer all discretionary aspects of the program for schools and libraries. ("FCC Approves Discount Plan for Schools," May 14, 1997.)

FCC Chairman Reed E. Hundt named the corporation members. They are: Ann L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Va.; Henry Marockie, the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the state superintendent in West Virginia; Brian Talbott, the executive director of the American Association of Educational Service Agencies; Kathleen Ouye, city librarian for the San Mateo (Calif.) Public Library; and Kenneth D. Brody, the managing partner of Winslow Partners, an investment firm in Washington.

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